Megan Leavey Movie Review
First rule when making a dog movie: name the movie after the dog, not its human.
Megan Leavey didn’t exactly clean up the lawn at the box office, but now on Blu-ray and DVD, you have the opportunity to watch this endearing and largely entertaining drama about a Marine (played by Kate Mara) who bonds with her bomb-sniffing dog while deployed in Iraq.
If, like my wife, you refuse to watch this movie before knowing whether the dog lives at the end, scroll to the bottom of this review.
Contrary to the opening sentence of this review, Megan Leavey is most definitely about the human, not the dog—and it’s doubtful whether “Megan & Rex” would have resonated much better with audiences (“Megan-Rex,” on the other hand, would have brought me out opening weekend). As a true-life drama about a young woman who becomes a Marine, lands in the bomb-sniffing division, gets injured in battle, and then fights to be re-connected with “her” dog, Megan Leavey is solidly made, tightly told and well-acted, even if none of the production elevates to top-tier material.
The first half is notably stronger than the second, as it follows Leavey through enlistment, boot camp, and finally into action in Iraq. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Megan Leavey is tautly delivered throughout, but really thrives when Leavey and Rex are out in the field. The Iraq scenes are suspenseful and exciting, not something you’d expect from a drama about a woman and her dog.
After Leavey is ripped from action, however, the movie loses some of its bluster—perhaps inevitable given that the film switches gear from being a war film to one that has Leavey back home, out of uniform, doing what she can to gain ownership of Rex. There just isn’t enough to sink your teeth into here—and while Mara does a good job throughout, she doesn’t flex her acting muscles in the third act. Mara needed to step up and own the film once the build-up fades away, but she plays things pretty straight and close to the vest.
Megan Leavey is a good movie worth seeing thanks to a good performance by Kate Mara and fast-paced storytelling by director Cowperthwaite. These kinds of films tend to have a ceiling, and Megan Leavey does a pretty good job reaching it—but it’s hard to deny that there was some potential left on the table.
Does the dog die at the end of Megan Leavey?
Megan Leavey is no Marley & Me. Thankfully, the movie ends on an uplifting tone, with the dog still alive and barking. Given that the film is based on a story from nearly 20 years ago, however, there is an “In memory” shot of the real Megan and Rex that establishes the dog did die… of natural causes long after the film’s narrative ends.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.