Megan Leavey is your basic determination story. A short, scrawny U.S. Marine recruit (Kate Mara) struggles her way to a position as a bomb-sniffing dog handler. After she does that she has to train the most ornery Marine dog in the camp. After she does that she has to fight to bring that dog home.
While this narrative shows little signs of originality, it does provide intrigue in the form of Leavey’s bond with Rex.
Talking to animals as if they are human and then filming reaction shots that make it seem as if the animal can explicitly derive the meaning of what is being said is silly and unrealistic. But this film sells it well enough, to the point where it isn’t even eye-rolling and awkward to hear Mara deliver most of her lines to a perked up dog.
There is a lot of story in Leavey, and to accommodate that the film glosses over important details in jarring ways. The overall A-story is engaging enough to carry the film. This is the relationship between Leavey and the dog. The emotional heart of the film, care is taken to establish these two in and out of combat.
As a result of this care, the supporting cast of characters play very little in the film, and when they are meant to it is often ineffective. The closest we get to a strong supporting character is with the B-story romantic interest. While this character is played with a pleasing naturalism by Ramon Rodriguez, this plot too feels underdeveloped.
Other characters are functionally non-existent. Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford play Leavey’s parents, and they are tragically under-utilized. They both play their parts expertly, but we only get them in glimpses throughout the film.
More screentime is dedicated to Common and Tom Felton (here sporting a rather convincing American accent). While the actors take on their characters adequately, these characters’ functions in the plot make it questionable as to why they are given as much dialogue as they are.
The film makes some good use of sequences of war violence in the middle to create tension. Shot with some shakiness and a casual use of slow motion here and there, these scenes are visually appealing, but the world of combat doesn’t always feel as lived-in and gritty as the film wants it to be.
Rushed and dense with plot points, Megan Leavey feels hampered and at times scattered. The major narrative throughline is, on its own, a strong and heartfelt story led by Mara’s performance. Unfortunately, it is brought down by the numerous things surrounding it.
Megan Leavey: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)