Ah, the “based on a true story” war movie. Such an obvious ploy to get people to watch a movie, and sometimes it actually works. And sometimes it’s actually a great movie, but usually they are just okay. And throw in a dog, and you’re hitting all the “feel good” points. Unless you just don’t care about dogs, in which case the movie isn’t any different.
Megan Leavey comes from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who is known for the Seaworld documentary Blackfish, and is her first non-documentary feature. The movie is about Megan, who is based on a real person and is played by Kate Mara. In the 2000’s, Megan ran away from home to join the Marines. The movie spends a few lightning quick moments with the boot camp montage before we get to the first “story” segment of the movie.
Megan makes a minor mistake and ends up having to clean up the kennels for the bomb sniffing dogs at the military base. But she immediately takes a shine to the concept of being a dog handler, but it’s an elite position. So she has to impress everyone, like her commander Gunny (Common) or expert back from the war Andrew (Tom Felton, with a decent American accent). But she’s having difficulty with one dog, an aggressive fellow named Rex.
The first little arc of the movie is Megan learning how to dog handle and connect with Rex the German Shepherd. This is all decent enough, and it’s nice to see her connect with the dog, but it’s not exactly unpredictable. Finally Megan gets deployed to Iraq, and we spend time on her new base as she acclimates to the new world.
There’s a love interest that doesn’t go anywhere, and a sexist commander that also doesn’t end up mattering. The movie isn’t particularly clever or has an interesting narrative structured; it relies on a pretty realistic feel and good acting from its lead to hide those weaknesses. And yes, Kate Mara is good here, even if the scenes of her crying and feeling things don’t particularly feel emotional to me personally.
This second arc shows Megan out in the field, proving her bravery and heroism and also showing off the skills of her dog Rex. There is a conflict of sorts in that it’s not really her dog, but the property of the military, but it only builds until later. The final arc is after she’s home, and the movie goes precisely how you’d expect it to.
There are a few decently tense moments, and the war footage is well shot, but it’s very … typical. It’s like a the ideal average of this sort of movie. The story is pleasant, but not highly inspirational, only mildly aspirational. I think anyone with military connections or a love of dogs will connect a lot more than I did, as it’s certainly not a bad movie. It’s just really not one that connects that much with me.
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Megan Leavey has a running time of 1 hour 56 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements.