Film Review: MEGAN LEAVEY (USA 2017) ***

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megan_leavey.jpgBased on the true life story of a young Marine corporal whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq.

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Writers: Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo
Stars: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton

Review by Gilbert Seah

 MEGAN LEAVEY is a film about a girl and her dog. Based on a true story written by Pamela Gray with the help of Annie Mumolo (BRIDESMAIDS), Tim Lovestedt, and Jordan Roberts, the story’s setting often shifts to an Afghanistan combat war zone where female Marine Megan Leavey and a combat dog named Rex have the task of exposing explosives that would lead to the saving of many lives. The film stresses the unique bond between man (or in this case woman) and man’s best friend.

The many times told similar tale of man’s best friend comes complete with owner and dog running together from a distance re-united to scenes where the canine saves the life of its owner or in this case, dog handler. The title of the film MEGAN LEAVEY, the name of the combatant, implies that the owner is given more importance that the canine. In fact, the dog does not appear till about 30 minutes through the film.

The film works on many accounts. The most important fact is the script and director Cowperthwaite’s effort in connecting the audience with the main character, Leavey. A well-written voiceover informs the audience at the film’s start of Leavey’s problem of a lack of motivation in her home town. When she is fired because she is unable to connect with other people, she joins the marines. The film takes time to show her relationship with an unsympathetic mother who fails to understand. By including scenes of Leavey suffering through boot camp, the audience sees that Leavey has accepted the punishment unfairly dished out to her.

The film gets a bit too sappy at parts. The cliche of the dog teaching Leavey human lessons is carried out a bit too far. The dog and Leavey’s separation and reunion are milked for sentimentality.

For the few battle scenes that are present, Peter McNulty’s clever editing captures the suspense and terror of the soldiers securing a few buildings that are littered with hidden explosives and unseen gunmen. Leavey and the dog, called Sergeant Rex are deployed twice in Iraq, first in Fallujy in 2005 and again in Ramadi in 2206. During the latter, both were injured by an improvised explosive device.

While Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a “V” device denoting heroism in combat with retirement, Rex was pulled back into service with another handle till Rex suffered from facial palsy, which ended his bomb-sniffing duties. This fact was surprisingly omitted in the film.

The film contains one over-preachy part when Megan’s father tells her to keep on trying and never give up despite constant failure, which is supposed to spur her to overturn a decision from preventing her adopting Rex.
The film omits the last few retirement years of Rex with Leavey though clips of the real Rex are shown during the closing credits emphasizing that the film is based on true events. Bring lots of Kleenex to this one.


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