Megan Leavey

 

            It's based on a true story, which makes it even more poignant.  But this one is a heart-tapper all on its own, even if you aren't a dog lover.  And especially if you are.

             Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) is not particularly enjoying her life.  She's not interested in college, works at a dead-end job, still lives at home, and lost her best friend.  She realizes she's going nowhere, so she just decides to join the Marines.  And there, things aren't much better.

            She makes it through boot camp, but not exactly with flying colors.  She didn't score particularly well in anything, and had to be disciplined besides, and now finds herself on the dog poop detail.  Literally.  She's washing out the kennels where they are training the bomb-sniffing dogs.

            But finally something clicks here.  She finds she really likes being around the dogs, even though she still gets the grunt work, like wearing the padded suit so the dogs can practice biting and holding.  Now suddenly having motivation, she scores better on marksmanship and physical regimen tests, and finally has her own dog to train:  Rex, who has been a particular handful for his previous trainer, who managed to get bit, with bones broken.

            Megan and Rex learn to relax around one another, and they both graduate, which means they get summarily shipped off to Iraq.  Seven months “in country.”  Procedurally, females soldiers aren't supposed to go on missions, but rather, be confined to the bases, but like they told her at boot camp, when you hit the ground in hostile territory, all expectations---and regulations---are suspended.  Megan and Rex go on patrol because there's no other team available.  And they do extraordinarily good work together.

            But it's a nerve-wracking, painstaking task, searching for explosive devices.  If you miss one, people get killed.  Maybe you.  And there are lots of “suicide bombers” out there, just hoping to take out a few Marines with them.  And it was in that scenario that Megan and Rex both get injured.  Megan gets sent to the hospital, then home on furlough.  Max, too, goes back to the training kennel for his recovery.

            Megan is all ready to call it a career and take Max home with her.  But the Marines aren't quite willing to give up on Rex.  He gets sent for another tour of duty, because there aren't many dogs as skilled as he is sniffing out the hidden explosives.

            Megan finds civilian life very frustrating.  Neither of her divorced parents really know what to do with her, and she hasn't figured out what to do with herself, either.  Yes, she's suffering from PTSD, and yes, she's attending a therapy group.  But she can't get over her obsession with being reunited with Rex, adopting him, and taking him home.  Eventually, she turns to social media to help her petition, and finally, the Marines retire Rex, and Megan is able to adopt him at last.

            You can't help but root for Megan every step of the way.  Rooney Mara plays her with just the right mix of gutsy determination and emotional vulnerability.  Nothing comes easy to her.  But then, that makes her story even more compelling.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Who's your favorite dog ever?

2)                  Who's your favorite dog now?

3)                  Was it worth it for us to send soldiers to Iraq?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association