PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Megan Leavey is her name. And she’s real.
As the title character, she’s told early on that she doesn’t connect with people very well. But it’s her unshakeable connection to a dog that forms the basis for the movie about the two of them.
Megan Leavey is a military biodrama, a fictionalized account of a true story about an emotionally isolated Marine corporal, played by Kate Mara, from upstate New York, where she lives, tensely and reluctantly, with her mother (Edie Falso) and stepfather (Will Patton).
So, in 2003, she impulsively enlists in the Marines, endures basic training, and then serves as a military police K-9 handler stationed in Camp Pendleton in California, where she bonds with a frisky and unyielding combat dog, a German Shepherd named Rex.
They take to each other, hesitantly at first, then more assuredly.
Together, they save lives – and each other — during their two mutual deployments in Iraq: in Fallujah in 2005 and then in 2006 in Ramadi, where they are both wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED).
As a result, Leavey is awarded the Purple Heart as well as the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Award for heroism in combat. But the inevitable symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder strongly affect both of them.
Later, Rex has to retire from bomb-sniffing duties when he develops facial palsy, after which Leavey is able – with the help of Senator Chuck Schumer — to adopt the supposedly “unadoptable” Rex, who passes away in 2012.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish, City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story), working from a doggedly earnest, apolitical script by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, and Tim Lovestedt, certainly tugs at the heartstrings – how could it not? – but in an admirably restrained fashion. And several sequences involving the detection of IED’s are remarkably suspenseful.
The result is a movie that is a combination of canine flick and war drama with a solid, natural lead performance from Mara and effective supporting turns by Ramon Rodriguez as Megan’s charming romantic interest, Bradley Whitford as her caring father, and Common as her gruff superior officer.
And as far as four-legged soldiers go, you may never look at them in quite the same way again.
So we’ll unleash 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for a respectable biopic that celebrates interspecies warriors, Megan Leavey, a love story of sorts that should especially please dog lovers.