I wanted to be an MP in the Army and work in a K-9 unit. Then I realized I was not the right fit for the military and decided to play to my strengths as a writer. However, my affinity for the military did not fade and working dogs are awesome. When a film about the Armed Forces comes out I try to see it and Megan Leavey was right up my alley. Did it stand out in this month of trash or should I have saved my money for Baby Driver?
To escape the monotony of her life Megan, played by Kate Mara, joins the Marine Corps. After a disciplinary incident leaves her doing grunt work, she grows attached to a working dog named Rex.
Two years ago I saw a movie called Max. It was about a working dog living with the family of his handler that died on deployment. It was very corny on purpose. The kid character was supposed to be a twerp, the villains were supposed to be cartoonish, and the overall tone was supposed to be light-hearted. For what it was, Max was successful, a call back to dog movies that was also about being a soldier. However, the corn factor downplayed the whole thing. It was very tone deaf when the titular Max would have a fit while fireworks go off, followed by a scene of kids doing BMX stunts.
Leavey is the complete antithesis. For one thing, it is based on a true story. Instead of overt subtext about going through trauma, film is about Rex and Megan sharing a bond through war. Not unlike human soldiers, the two are inseparable and the latter half of the movie is about Megan dealing with the anxiety of being apart.
That is where Leavey does well. Mara is one of those actors that are only as good as the material they are given. While dealing with the separation she is very emotional and focused on trying to bring Rex home. There is a lot going on, whereas the first half is pretty dull. We see Megan go through boot camp and deploy with very little to keep your attention. It is just stuff that happens because that was how it played out in real life.
From what I could tell, Leavey was trying to be a Clint Eastwood film. It was very matter-of-fact, honest, and obvious. However, Eastwood knows how to bring a script to life and get good performances out of his actors. American Sniper may have been cheaper than dirt, but the themes and Bradley Cooper’s performance made it exceptional. Leavey starts with a whole lot of nothing before actually getting to something. It was more concerned with being faithful to the story than being a movie. Sully was very plain, but it was still trying to be a movie.
A couple more things irked me that other people will not care about. During the pass and review segment of Megan’s graduation from boot camp, none of the extras in formation marched in-step. Also, Mara does not look like a Marine or any service member. This is subjective, but women in the military do not look like models because they actually work. She a good actor, but I think a Katee Sackhoff or Portia Doubleday would have been a better physical fit for the part.
All in all, Megan Leavey is very average. It is not that great given the first half is a slog, but it is well meaning. It is about the bonds of war between man and his best friend. You cannot ask for more. In terms of a recommendation, if you saw Max and were left wanting, give it a look. For everyone else, unless you are a fan of the military and war movies, you would not miss anything sitting this one out.