June 9, 2017 at 3:26 p.m.
MEGAN LEAVEY (2017)
Kate Mara, Ramón Rodríguez, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford, Will Patton, Sam Keeley, Common, Edie Falco. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
This is Kate Mara’s best role since her debut 12 years ago in “Brokeback Mountain” as Heath Ledger’s daughter Ennis. Based on a true story, “Megan Leavey” is a wartime drama that focuses on the bond between a Marine and her partner Rex, a bomb-sniffing German shepherd. The supporting cast features strong performances by Common and Edie Falco while director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) gives the audience a romance angle, tense action scenes, and a touching story that devoted animal lovers will embrace.
When we first meet Megan (Kate Mara) she’s coasting from job to job in suburban New York living her life without any direction. She resents her overbearing mother (a wonderful Edie Falco) for cheating on her father (Bradley Whitford) with his best friend (Will Patton) who now lives in their home. Megan is a lost soul who apart from her troubles at home and at work (she just lost another job), she is also grief-stricken over the loss of her best friend who died from an overdose.
Looking for purpose and a new direction, Megan decides to enlist in the Marines where she almost blows it with an alcohol-fueled misstep while on R&R with a couple of female cadets. As punishment, she gets assigned kennel duty in the division’s K-9 unit run by Gunnery Sgt. Martin (Common) and it’s there where she meets her future partner Rex, a German shepherd who like Megan is a bit of a troublemaker.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who directed the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” which changed many people’s opinions about Seaworld’s killer whale program, doesn’t waste very much time on Megan’s home life or military training (the bootcamp sequence which features the real Megan Leavey in a cameo is very short), instead the director moves swiftly to set up film’s heart, the bonding between Megan and Rex who become a team after Rex bites his former handler. Cowperthwaite also uses her documentary experience to set up some tense and realistic battle scenes as Megan and Rex search for explosives at checkpoints and on missions in Iraq.
There is a romance in the film that feels unnecessary as Megan and another trainer, fellow New Yorker Matt Morales (Ramón Rodríguez) become intimate but the crux of the story belongs to the bond between the trainer and her dog. After Megan leaves the Corp she tries to adopt Rex who is being retired from duty but she faces several obstacles including a military vet’s assessment that the canine is too aggressive for civilian life.
“Megan Leavey” is a meaningful story brought to life by Kate Mara’s strongest performance since her debut in 2005. Common is fantastic in the film after almost stealing the spotlight from Keanu Reeves in last year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 and there’s a nice cameo by Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) who does a great job playing a good guy for a change.
This is the fourth film I’ve screened recently directed by a female with a strong female protagonist or cast (Wonder Woman, Band Aid, The Beguiled, Megan Leavey) making 2017 the year women take Hollywood by storm.
Opens Friday June 9 in theaters.
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