Arts & Leisure

“Megan Leavey” has heart and bite

KATE MARA in the title role in “Megan Leavey.”

By Jim Tortolano

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me admit at the outset that I am a sucker for a movie with dogs. If they did a remake of “Casablanca” with an all-canine cast, I would probably give it at least two stars even if all the dialogue were barked.

So how good is it to have a four-legged film with a strong story and fine acting.

“Megan Leavey” stars Kate Mara in the title role of the film based on a true story, but the real attraction are the dogs who played Rex, the Marine Corps K-9 that not only changes her life but saves it also.

Leavey is a rootless, anomic young woman with no ambition or energy who clearly needs direction in her life. So, in an act of near-desperation, she enlists in the Marine Corps. She get off to a rocky start, but changes course when she meets the aggressive German shepherd Rex while mucking out the kennels while on a punishment detail.

She decides she wants to become a dog-handler for bomb-sniffing bowsers. After some setbacks, she blooms into the role, and she and the dog face danger together in Iraq.

You can probably predict what follows, but it’s all done with a naturalistic and authentic flair. There’s a romance in there as well, with Ramon Rodriguez as Sgt. Matt Morales, and brief and underutilized appearances by Edie Falco and Will Patton. Common is impressive as Gunnery Sergeant Martin.

Although this film is clearly rooted in patriotism and admiration for the Marine Corps and those who serve in it, this is not a John Wayne-esque flag-waver. It’s understated and feels real, thanks to the direction of Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

One small issue. During some of the scariest and most violent scenes, Rex is seen wagging his tail. Is that what really happens in combat, or is it a matter of the sound being added in post-production?

No matter. “Leavey” is a fine film with a lot to say about the price of war and the bond that can exist between a human and a dog.

“Megan Leavey” is rated PG-13 for profanity, violence and sensuality.

 

 

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