Don’t be fooled by the artwork and trailers for Megan Leavey. This is not just a war movie and it’s not just a movie about a Marine and her dog. It’s a story about relationships and love. Bear with me here.
Whenever I hear a film is based on a true story, I’m already somewhat invested. There’s nothing I like more than learning about someone’s story. Isn’t that what the movies are all about? Telling interesting stories? And Corporal Megan Leavey’s story is definitely one of interest.
Not having the best family life and struggling to deal with the loss of her best friend, Megan (Kate Mara) decides to enlist in the US Marines in order to give her life a purpose. Eventually, she decides that she wants to be a Military K9 handler but her dog, Rex, is temperamental and doesn’t take directions quite as well as she’d like. Unable to form meaningful relationships with other humans because of her grief, Megan is eventually able to form a strong bond with Rex and they’re shipped off to Iraq for duty.
When she returns to civilian life, she is determined to adopt Rex to give him a safe home for the remainder of his life. But politics and other barriers prevent her from the reunion she desperately needs to help her deal with her PTSD; Megan struggles with being separated from Rex and is now showing signs of depression. Leave it to the filmmakers to use Band of Horses’ “The Funeral” during the montage that shows Megan at her lowest – that’s just cruel. (Here’s a not-so-fun fact for you: the music video for “The Funeral” is about a man who can’t cope with the death of his dog, gets drunk, and then crashes his car. I don’t know if the music choice was intentional, but, damn, what a coincidence.)
Remember when I said Megan Leavey wasn’t just a war movie? That’s not to say it isn’t a war movie at all. It’s a heart-pounding, palms-sweaty (knees weak, arms are heavy), tense war movie. It’s got all the heroic, bad-guy-shooting moments we want in a war movie and every time Megan, Rex, and the rest of her squad go on a mission, you can’t help but grip your arm rest because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But the heart and soul of the movie is really about the bonds that Megan makes with Rex, the one thing she loves most in the world, and with her squad members. Megan originally struggled to let others in, dealing with her grief alone. That all changed once she joined the Marines. You can see the change in Megan’s disposition from the beginning of the film to the end. Kate Mara is an absolute wonder to watch and she anchors the film, giving a simple film depth and dimension. There’s a great supporting cast as well. Common’s Gunnery Sergeant Massey and Ramón Rodríguez’s Corporal Matt Morales provide light humour, but also help Megan to open up more to the people in her life.
It’s unlikely that at the beginning of the film, the person that Megan was would have been self-assured enough to approach a senator to make her case to adopt a dog. But the Marines changed her, and you shouldn’t be surprised at her resilience to adopt her best friend. Megan Leavey lets us know that even trained war dogs like Rex can suffer from PTSD. They might be warriors, but at the end of the day they’re still just animals who want the comfort, attention, and love. They’re all good dogs. So do me a favour and go give your doggo (or any other animal or person you love) a big ol’ huggo. Because I promise that will be your first instinct once you finish watching Megan Leavey.