Based on the true events concerning Marine Megan Leavey and the combat dog that accompanied her to Fallujah in 2005 and then to Ramadi in 2006, Megan Leavey should be a better movie than it is. The source material is good stuff. The film, not so much.
The movie, which opens Friday area-wide, settles for a romanticized and ultimately sentimental account of Leavey’s life as it often comes off more like a military recruitment ad than a drama about a woman with a fierce love for her loyal canine.
Struggling to cope with the death of her best friend, Megan (Kate Mara) hops on a military bus on a whim, hoping that the Marines will help her get her life back on track. The bus transports her directly to boot camp. Her superiors predictably yell in her face and force her to get into shape with a regime of cardio and strength training. She bends but doesn't break.
She makes it through the Marines' training program, graduates and heads to Camp Pendleton, a base in Northern San Diego. While there, she takes a liking to Rex, a particularly moody military dog trained to sniff for bombs. After convincing the Sergeant in charge (Common) that she can handle the creature, he gives her a shot.
Turns out, Megan is pretty darn good at handling the dog, and the dog is pretty darn good at finding bombs. But on one particular mission, the two get caught in some serious crossfire and wind up in rehab. Suffering from PTSD, Megan leaves the Marines and reverts to her bad habits, sleeping until noon and drinking too much.
After some rehabilitation, Rex, who'd been injured as well, winds up with another handler and heads back to Iraq. Megan, however, fights to adopt the dog. She even petitions senator Chuck Schumer in the attempt to be reunited with Rex in the wake of the dog's retirement.
The feel-good film’s second half really stalls as it heads into Lifetime territory. Megan struggles to reconnect with her divorced parents (Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford) and abruptly ends her relationship with fellow Marine Matt Morales (Ramón Rodríguez). With the dog out of the picture, the film really suffers.
While Mara doesn’t play Megan with the kind of toughness required for the role — at least one reviewer noted her propensity to sob — she does effectively show the bond that Megan had with Rex. At its heart, the movie is a love story, albeit an unconventional one.
Ultimately, the compelling subject matter would’ve probably made a better documentary than drama.