Animal lovers, get those Kleenex ready: the true life story of a U.S. Marine and her bomb-sniffing hero dog has been given the big screen treatment in the biopic “Megan Leavey.” This is a touching, uplifting story about companionship, devotion, and the lifelong friendship that develops from a mutual respect between a human and her animal.
Megan Leavey (Kate Mara, in a heartfelt and earnest performance) is a young Marine who, after a night of drinking and conduct unbecoming a soldier, is punished by being assigned to kennel cleaning duty in the military’s K9 unit. Eventually she is put in charge of training Rex, an extremely aggressive German Shepard. The two find that they both needed a little discipline and grow to understand each other.
Soon after, Megan is suddenly deployed to Iraq with her combat canine to sniff out bombs. (In real life, the pair completed more than 100 missions). When an IED explosion injures both of them, Megan is sent back home and Rex is assigned to a new trainer — but she won’t give up until she can adopt Rex and bring him home to live out the final years of his life with her.
It’s a fantastic true tale that’ll be a surefire hit with animal lovers (and women too), but it’s also something audiences rarely see: a military drama with great warmth. It’s not political, it’s not religious (as so many military movies are nowadays) — it’s just a good, old fashioned, all-American story.
There are some heavy undertones present, like the brief mention of PTSD that’s suffered by our soldiers of both the two legged and four legged variety, but the movie never gets too serious and instead chooses to go the uplifting route. Criticize that if you want, but the story is well told and stirring, and it manages to avoid the trap of launching into a sappy, overly melodramatic, clichéd mess. Yes, Megan “finds herself” by finding love and a special bond with her dog, but nothing about Gabriela Cowperthwaite‘s direction or Pamela Gray‘s script feels hollow or hokey.
The performances radiate the utmost sincerity. I found myself fully invested in all of the characters, including Bradley Whitford and Edie Falco as Megan’s estranged parents, Common as her military boss, and Tom Felton and Ramon Rodriguez as two fellow soldiers.
Regardless of how you feel about our military, this movie will give you the highest respect for our servicemen and women and it may even make you want to stand up and cheer. And animal lovers: don’t forget those Kleenex.