By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

There have been multiple films made about war heroes, but not too many have been made about the dogs who assist the military.  During the Iraq War, dogs trained for detecting explosives were used on a regular basis.  Often some were killed, while others were injured.  Most of these intelligent canines that did survive suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, much like war veterans do.  These well-trained animals often saved lives, though, as is the case with Rex and his handler, US Marine Megan Leavey.  Opening in theaters this week is a new movie which details the compelling story of Megan Leavey and her special friend Rex.  

Kate Mara stars as Megan Leavey, a troubled and somewhat aimless young woman trying to find her place in the world.  Much to the surprise and dismay of her mother Jackie (Edie Falco), Megan enlists in the United States Marines.  After completing training, Megan still doesn’t quite know what to do with herself.  When a night out with friends lands Megan in trouble, her superiors punish her by forcing her to clean the kennels of the canine division.  Though not a fan of the dirty work, watching the dogs train with the Marines intrigues Megan and inspires her to join the unit.  Megan gets paired with a temperamental German Shepherd named Rex.  After some trouble getting acquainted and working together, the two reach a great level of trust and understanding and this solid foundation for a working relationship makes an even bigger difference when they get deployed to Iraq.

Written by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt, and directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish), Megan Leavey the movie tells a riveting and enthralling true story, but struggles to make the presentation completely captivating.  The beginning act of the film is a bit disorienting as the introduction to the character lacks enough details to make her earn the audience’s empathy.  It is evident that Leavey is lost and depressed, but more insight into the causes would have made a difference.  Eventually, the reasons get revealed, but some clues would have made her introduction and the start of her journey meaningful.  On the other hand, Cowperthwaite does an excellent job presenting the war scenes with wonderfully executed tension and harrowing violence.

The film features a great cast with everyone offering solid work.  In addition to Kate Mara who performs earnestly and passionately in the title role, the movie stars Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford, Common, Edie Falco, and Will Patton.  Actor Ramon Rodriguez delivers a charming and witty turn as Megan’s colleague and love interest Matt Morales.  Everyone in the cast brings much heart to their roles and their love for their characters and this story help make it fly.

Despite some of the storytelling mishaps and some poor directorial choices, I still highly recommend this film as a fascinating and heartfelt telling of the story of Megan Leavey and her pal Rex.  Honoring war heroes in movies happens on a regular basis, but it is about time that these dogs have their moment to shine.  They may have not volunteered for the job, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it and doing it well.  They are owed a huge debt of thanks for the lives they have saved, especially those who sacrificed theirs in the process.

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