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Megan Leavey - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Megan Leavey
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

I almost feel bad for this movie. It has a lot working against it, not least of which is a title that says nothing about its story besides the name of the real-life woman being portrayed, who bonded with her bomb-sniffing military combat dog and then had to fight to adopt it after retirement. The dog was named Rex, and they called him Sergeant Rex. That's a real thing. In fact, although Megan Leavey is not directly based on it, a book was written about this dog, by one of his previous handlers, called Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog. Maybe the movie producers thought calling this movie Sergeant Rex sounded too hokey (it kind of does), but at least it would have offered some immediate clarity.

Then again, it got plenty of marketing. Somehow, after merely a week in theatres, it has barely grossed more than $5 million. Even though this isn't the kind of movie I'm typically interested in (a friend asked me to see this with her and I had nothing better to do), this mystifies me. It plays very much like an effectively crowd-pleasing movie. People who love to display their support for the troops will enjoy it. People who love dogs will enjoy it. People who love schmaltzy movies will enjoy it.

The thing is, the biggest surprise -- or the only surprise, really -- about this movie is that it's not quite a schmaltzy as you'd expect. Don't get me wrong, now; it's still a by-the-numbers story that is emotionally manipulative in all the typical ways. It's even a bit transparent at times, all but putting up a title card saying CRY NOW. I even expected to cry, in spite of going in skeptical that it would be all that great a movie. These kinds of movies are usually that way, effective in spite of themselves. But I guess this movie just didn't manage to crack into my cold, cynical heart. I say that with irony because I have been known to cry at awards acceptance speeches and even the occasional commercial.

The other irony is that, although it ticks off all the right boxes in the effort to make it happen, this is a movie about a woman having trouble connecting with people, which itself doesn't connect with people. Kate Mara, best known as Francis Underwood's first murder victim on House of Cards, plays the title character. She has a little bit of a Kristen Stewart problem: an arguably underrated actress without a lot of range. Get a part within her range, though, and she can excel. She could have excelled here, and she's fine, but slightly saddled by the material.

The movie very much plays up Megan's self-absorbed and/or distant family, her divorced parents played by Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford. All we ever really learn about them is that her dad constantly has to work, thus missing many important events in Megan's life; and her mother is pathologically selfish. If you don't expect some kind of heartwarming reconciliation by the end, then you haven't seen very many of these movies. Lucky you.

To Megan Leavey's credit, these contrivances are actually more subtle than usual. Its steady direction, by Gabriela Cowperthwaite -- who gave us 2013's Blackfish, a truly unique documentary in the degree to which it effectively called people to action -- focuses on more important things. It's always all about Megan and the aggressive bomb sniffing dog she is ultimately assigned to handle. She manages to tame Rex, who turns out to be great at the work he does, and saves many lives, including Megan's own.

Given what this story is going for, it could have used a little more of us falling in love with Rex ourselves, rather than rooting for Megan to fall in love with him. A bit of over-focus on the latter keeps the dog at a bit of a distance, which is a little odd for a movie clearly aimed at animal lovers. But, whatever. Its abysmal box office performance notwithstanding, Megan Leavey has the potential to gain new life and new traction on streaming platforms in a few months. I can see plenty of families getting plenty of enjoyment of this in their living rooms.

Kate Mara takes her aggressive bomb sniffing dog to task in MEGAN LEAVEY.

Overall: B-
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