Starring Kate Mara, Bradley Whitford, Eddie Falco, Common, Tom Felton, Will Patton, Ramon Rodriguez
The true story of a Marine who bonds with her German Shephard on a mission to Iraq could have been another cinematic animal failure like “A Dog’s Purpose” or “Max”. Documentarian turned film director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, keeps this war thriller and emotional drama away from melodramatics. “Megan Leavey” has similar beats to “Million Dollar Baby”, as our leading character struggles to find her place in the world. Regardless of feelings towards dogs or political affiliation, “Megan Leavey” has a natural approach to film-making, allowing the viewer to identify with Megan, putting ourselves in her boots when it comes to fear. Rooney Mara’s sister Kate (“Fantastic Four”) is finally given a leading role, and one that requires physical and emotional dedication.
Megan Leavey (Mara) joins the Marines because her life in upstate New is on a downward spiral. She makes it through basic training easily enough, still unsure of her purpose. After a drunken night on the base leads to punishment, cleaning the military combat dog kennels, she finally discovers something she wants. Gaining the extra training required to be a handler, Megan is assigned Rex, one of the more difficult and vicious dogs in the reserve. The duo is shipped to Iraq where their training will be put to the test in life or death bomb sniffing assignments. “As much as they are our family, we are there’s too,”.
The restraint Cowperthwaite display’s in avoiding predictable cinematic beats is one of the elements making this picture far better than the trailer advertises.
As a whole, the film is stronger than Mara’s singular performance. Probably not an awards worthy turn, unless the film takes off and support is thrown behind its lead. Unlike “Wonder Woman” (last weeks’ female starring and directed film), “Megan Leavey” doesn’t divide the screen time with a co-male lead, Mara is in every frame. I would argue that “Megan Leavey” makes a greater stand for female filmmakers than the fantasy comic book character. All of that aside, this film would work regardless of the leading characters gender. The restraint Cowperthwaite display’s in avoiding predictable cinematic beats is one of the elements making this picture far better than the trailer advertises. She navigates the predictable notes of the film, like showing basic training in a quick montage, so we can get to the stuff we haven’t seen before.
“Megan Leavey” is more than a film about combat dogs or a civilian’s journey in wartime. It’s a film about discovering purpose and acceptance. Screenwriters Pamela Gray (“Music of the Heart”) and Annie Mumolo (“This is 40”) both address how women are treated differently in the military, but gender politics isn’t a focal point in this story. Megan is presented as a flawed, imperfect character, just like Rex, and we root for both. There are segments in war, training, family drama and relationships, “Megan Leavey” is a multi-genre film, and that’s part of its appeal. Maybe it’s the unpredictable nature of bombs or IED’s in general, but this film contains some expertly suspenseful scenes during the mission sequences. The jittery score and cinematography take cues from “The Hurt Locker” coaxing the audience to the edge of their seat.
Megan Leavey is the real wonder woman.