Ever since returning from the Cannes Film Festival I have been dutifully trying to catch up to screenings and openings of June releases I missed along the way. In this one particular case I want to single out a Friday opening, Megan Leavey, which I finally caught up with Saturday. As I say in my video review above, I am a sucker for boy, girl, or anybody and their dog movies. From Old Yeller to My Dog Skip to Marley And Me to anything starring Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji or even Won Ton Ton (The Dog Who Saved Hollywood – remember?), I can’t get enough of them.
OK, I’m a soft touch, but I have to say this true-life story of a Marine and the warrior dog named Rex who served with her on 100 missions in Iraq really got to me. It not only works because of Leavey’s remarkable life story (played beautifully by Kate Mara) but also because of the unique bond between human and animal as demonstrated by the touching relationship between Rex and Megan. The wide release from Bleecker Street ended up doing a bit better over the weekend than some box analysts had predicted, and it got a well-deserved ‘A’ Cinemascore from audiences, which bodes well for its survival against the onslaught of bigger summer movies. Hopefully audiences will continue to find it. If you can resist it, you are not human.
Mara plays a troubled woman who joins the Marines to get away from her miserable life. There she signs up for the canine training programs that prepare dogs for active duty, “warrior dogs.” None seems more ferocious and less approachable than the German Shepherd Rex, who looks to be as tough as they come. This does not scare off Leavey who welcomes the challenge, beats out a male Marine, and eventually gets teamed with Rex. Much of the film chronicles the many missions and danger zones they encounter in their Iraq tour of duty. It’s pretty harrowing stuff, but both of recruits really know how to take the heat. It is inspiring to watch, but especially because of the unique bond between them. This film serves not only to honor our fighting forces overseas but also the military dogs who take humans — and themselves — out of harm’s way every single day.
Complications arise when an explosion nearly kills both Megan and Rex and, upon recovery, she is forced to separate from her beloved companion who is left behind for more combat duty. The film, from a script by Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt, then reverts to Leavey’s undying efforts to get the military to release Rex to her so he can live out the rest of his days with someone he clearly loves — and vice versa. Unfortunately, a by-the-book military veterinarian deems Rex “unadoptable,” a danger to society, if he is allowed to enter domestic life. It is this battle, as well as the real battles they fought together, that make this true story so compelling to see.
For me, this is what movies are all about, and I hope room is made for it among the long list of sequels, comic book movies, dumb comedies, remakes and other typical summer fare that isn’t nearly as rewarding. Mara has her best screen outing yet as Leavey, while Common shines as her tough but understanding Marine superior. Family members are effectively played by Bradley Whitford and Edie Falco, and Ramon Rodriguez is terrific as a fellow Marine and potential love interest. The director is Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who did the controversial documentary Blackfish about the mistreatment of an abused killer whale at Sea World, and here shows again her humanity and concern for some pretty heavenly creatures that share the Earth with us.
See it, and let us know what you think.