A movie like MEGAN LEAVEY runs the risk of relying on two heavy groups of movie clichés. One group is dependent on America’s natural patriotism or pressure to respect soldiers while the other group requires you to have a soul for our four-legged furry companions. MEGAN LEAVEY avoids both groups’ pitfalls and tells a genuine story about maturity, growth and the tale of a woman connecting on an emotional level with a military combat dog.
The title character, played by Kate Mara, is in a rut. She hates the jobs she takes and gets fired from, she hates living at home with her mom and unemployed step-dad, and she hates that she seemingly lacks a purpose. It’s something most people in their late teens and early 20’s experience, so Megan’s situation isn’t unique. What makes it unique is that she tries to solve this quandary by joining the Marines, hoping for that structure she craves. Instead she finds more questions about whom she is and her place in the world.
The rigid military rules only bend, not break, her nonchalant attitude. That is until she comes across another troubled soul, Rex. The bomb-sniffing dog struggles with the handlers he’s given and it appears Megan’s higher-ups pair the two hoping they’ll both wear each other to the point of honorable dishcarge. Instead they bond and find that their misunderstood demeanor is the connective tissue. For Rex, it’s a human who genuinely cares about him and for Megan it’s the most human interaction she’s has ever had.
There are a couple of moments in MEGAN LEAVEY that I expected to roll my eyes, but the film does an extraordinary job at making the relationship between Megan and Rex a lot more believable than any of Megan’s interactions with her fellow soldiers or superiors. There are moments of fear during wartime on Megan’s face, but we watch them ease and calm when she relies on Rex to sniff out danger or lead the way, fearlessly but blind to the impending doom because, well, he’s a dog.
MEGAN LEAVEY isn’t without some of its more melodramatic moments that seem silly and ill-fitting in the overall arch of the movie. One moment has Megan, struggling back in the real world and without her companion, at a gas station and nearly resorting to violence. The scene is certainly a fantasy played out in dog lover’s heads around the U.S., but it feels dishonest to what is most certainly Megan’s PTSD. The scene’s silliness is buried by its storytelling purpose which is to convey Megan’s loss of the one of the few things on the planet she took comfort and solace in.
Unlike A DOG’S PURPOSE, 2017’s animal loving gem is this film. MEGAN LEAVEY is a biographical war drama that’s light on the dull details of a biography and lacking the brutal punch of a war. It’s light on both, but heavy on legitimate heart. Other war movies that merely appear to manipulate America’s brave men and women for audience tears and box office bucks could spend an afternoon watching MEGAN LEAVEY.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) The video quality on this blu-ray is top-tier as it puts viewers in the heart of Iraq and quickly takes them out, putting them back into the hustle and bustle of city life in America.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) For a movie that has IEDs blowing up, the sound is never off the charts and balances out with the film’s softer moments.
Never Give Up (2:35): It’s bizarre that a biographical movie would have such a short feature about the lead character, barely making use of an interview with the real-life Megan Leavey.