Megan Leavey

2018-01-19 07:12

What it's about:

Megan Leavey is based on the true life story of a young marine corporal (Kate Mara) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean up the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy.

What we thought:

Megan Leavey is one of those films that may sound more like a Saturday night TV special, but ends up surprising you with a thoughtful story that remains grounded as an authentic retelling of a woman’s bond with a working dog. Though a military film, the focus is kept on Leavey’s experiences throughout and doesn’t ask any questions about the legitimacy of war, especially the Iraqi war, which works to keep the story balanced. Kate Mara also plays her best role yet, alongside a dog that knows his ques.

Leavey decides to sign up with the US marines as a last-ditch effort to find meaning in her life. While being placed on cleaning duty after a misdemeanour, she is introduced to the K9 department of the army and decides to become a dog handler. She gets paired with an aggressive dog called Rex, but ends up bonding with him as they set off to Iraq.

If you love dogs you may find it a bit difficult to watch many of the scenes, but the film won’t make you suffer emotionally unless it’s important to the plot. Films about dogs and war normally love to tease out every conceivable emotional trauma it can, but luckily this film was directed by documentary director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who directed the acclaimed Blackfish story about captive orcas. 

Not only is Megan Leavey a strong story, it’s also quite informative about the training of military dogs, what they and their handler go through and the resulting PTSD that our four-legged friends also suffer, same as humans. You learn an appreciation for working dogs, and although you might be against it you also end up seeing the value they have in conflict situations. It also shows why it’s not so easy to adopt one of them, and explains the problems that come with working dogs entering a normal ‘civilian’ life, which makes their lives even more tragic.

Mara was a great choice to portray the lost woman-turned-marine-turned-dog lover, and she really managed to mould a believable bond with her canine actor Varco, who from interviews sounded like he was treated like a king on set. Her emotional range makes you forget that she ever played in that tone-deaf Fantastic Four fiasco, and you can see a great working relationship with Cowperthwaite. This film could have easily dived into a cheese-tastic array of overacting and cheap punches at the heartstrings, but a firm hand kept it on track and delivered a good film.

The film did veer a little to a slow halt from time to time, but that is the trade-off for sticking to your source material instead of Hollywoodising the events. Megan Leavey’s story is powerful as well as educational, and although it might be a bit tough for animal lovers, the war aspect shouldn’t put you off seeing the film. It celebrates the role of soldier dogs without making assumptions about the audience’s stance on working dogs, and rather leaves it up to you to decide which side of the debate you fall on.

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