Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Starring: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Edie Falco, Will Patton and Common
Runtime: 1h 56min
Genre: Biography, Drama, War
3 ½ Frames out of 5
This is a film about Megan Leavey, a Marine K9 Handler and the bomb-sniffing German Sheppard, Rex, with whom she’d do anything to save as he did her on the battlefields of Iraq. They were involved in over 100 missions and saved countless lives but now, she must save Rex. It begins by introducing us to Megan (Mara) and what ultimately leads her to make the decision to join the Marines. Like many stories that lead to this same resolution, she’s from a broken family and after her best friend kills himself, she feels displaced and assumes the Military will give her what she’s desperately missing; some discipline and some personal strength.
Being new on base and still a bit naïve, she gets caught urinating in a bush and finds herself on kennel cleaning detail as her discipline. She’s not happy but it could be worse. She’s not terribly fond of a dog named Rex when their paths first cross and he’s not too fond of her either but before long, she likes how being around the animals makes her feel and the respect they give her is unlike any she’s gotten in her entire life. She does the only thing that would possibly make her happy at this point in her life; she convinces Gunny Martin (Common) to let her train to be a handler. It’s explained to her that being in control and being confident at all times is key to this job. She’s told that everything she feels goes ‘down leash.’ If you can’t control yourself, you can’t control the animal. When she has this down, Megan finally feels she has grown up and it shows in character.
Soon, she and Rex are off to Iraq and she’s warned to be careful as there are large bounties out for female handlers. She learns a lot, especially by making mistakes, but she also teaches the men in her unit that a woman is just as good as a man. Similar to the views of this particular enemy, women only go so far in battle and Megan and Rex are somewhat relegated to only working at checkpoints; not allowed to go on missions. This frustrates her. This doesn’t last long, though. Three months after her arrival, being the only handler available, she finally gets the opportunity she’s been hoping for and is directed to the front lines. Well trained and following the prompting of this master, Rex finds a massive stash of arms, saving many lives in the process. And just like that, they are the heroes of the unit. Moving forward, their courage and abilities make them the team most wanted for missions.
After being incredibly successful, Corporal Megan Leavey and Rex are both wounded by an IED. She’s sent to the hospital and is separated from the dog, who she now considers hers. Another thing handlers are warned never to do is to ever see the dogs as theirs. They belong to the Marines. The dogs are soldiers, not pets. Unable to forget him and his unconditional love, she does everything in her power to track him down. Deciding not to re-enlist, she continues her quest after being told he is going to be retired. Desperate to adopt him, she’s then told he’s not adoptable because he’s too aggressive and the military would rather put him down than take the chance Rex would mistake a child’s toy gun as a real gun and possibly take an innocent life. All of that said, she fights harder to save him. Putting her life on hold, she gets a petition going and even approaches Senator Chuck Schumer in the hopes of being listened to about what Rex means to her. He may not stand on two legs, but being that he was a soldier in battle, he deserves the chance to live.
Megan Leavey is a touching film and if you’re in need of a good cleansing cry, this would be the picture for you to see this weekend. Mara is delightful, the script is engaging and the story is powerful. There’s also a special treat so stay for the end because you get to see the real Rex and Leavey which adds more heart and even more of a reason to see the film.