Megan Leavey
Universal // PG-13 // $34.98 // September 5, 2017
Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 2, 2017
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With little connection to her unreliable mother (Edie Falco) and no connection to her home town, Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) is desperate to find something to hold onto. After losing her job for being drunk on the clock, she dives into a major life change feet first, enlisting with the United States Marine Corps. She survives boot camp but still feels untethered until she gets drunk off-base with some fellow soldiers and finds herself stuck cleaning up after the canine soldiers as punishment for breaking the rules. There, she meets Rex, a bomb-sniffing dog with a bad attitude. Over the course of several months, she finds herself committed to bonding with the animal, a connection that will take them overseas and into the Iraq War, where they face dangers neither of them are fully prepared for.

Megan Leavey falls into arguably the most common class of "true story" movies: it selects a story that is unique enough but mostly holds an appeal for a certain audience, tells it efficiently, and doesn't leave much more of an impression. It's a film mostly pitched to the people who already know about Megan and Rex and would be excited by the prospect of seeing it dramatized, even if the film does hold a handful of effective moments for those who aren't already primed to enjoy it.

Kate Mara, so far best known for a stint on "House of Cards," a part in The Martian, and starring as Sue Storm in the ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot, isn't bad in the lead role, but her consistently adequate performance flattens Leavey's energy. She has a believable bond with the dog, and she never hurts the film, but she lacks a spark or charisma that would help bring character scenes to life. Then again, actors like Falco, Will Patton, Tom Felton, and Bradley Whitford don't really fare any better, popping up for what amount to extended cameos and never quite bringing the movie to life. Of the ensemble, only Common adds a bit of crackle to his character Gunny Martin, who is in charge of the canine unit, and the presence of Ramon Rodriguez, as a fellow soldier named Matt who has a connection with Megan, adds a sexual chemistry brings Mara to life.

Megan Leavey is the first narrative feature film by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who previously helmed the gripping SeaWorld expose documentary Blackfish. Some of the film is particularly striking, especially an extended action sequence taking place in Iraq that kicks off the second core conflict for Megan. The detonation of a land mine and the subsequent firefight is spectacular and harrowing, one of the few sequences in the movie that grabs the viewer's attention and keeps it. On the other hand, Cowperthwaite definitely needs to hire a better editor. If Leavey has a single problem, it's stretching a 90-minute story out to just under two hours, especially as the film segues into the second half of the story, in which Megan petitions the Army to rethink its position on how combat dogs are treated, and fighting for the permission to adopt Rex once his service is over.

In the heavily-charged political atmosphere of 2017, it's also worth noting that Megan Leavey is a curiously apolitical film (much like this last weekend's big true-story blockbuster, American Made). Although the film gives a certain amount of lip service to the dangers that women in the Army face, both from the enemy and their fellow soldiers, as well as racism and sexual discrimination, the screenplay (by Pamela Gray, Tim Lovestedt, and curiously, Bridesmaids' Annie Mumolo), tends to avoid tough or touchy subjects. In principle, that's not necessarily an outrageous position to take, and in execution that includes limiting both excessive pro-military jingoistic nonsense and open criticism of the reasons for being in Iraq (although right-wingers may roll their eyes at the appearance of Chuck Schumer as a character in a brief scene near the end of the film). That said, in the case of Leavey, that feels more like it stems from a timidness that keeps the whole movie from being little more than pleasant.

The Blu-ray
Megan Leavey arrives with the poster art for the film intact, an image of Mara in her fatigues next to the dog, in front of an American flag backdrop. The two-disc set comes in one of the new Vortex cases that Universal uses (which are secretly four-disc stack hub cases, even though this set only uses half the space), containing the Blu-ray, DVD copy, and a sheet with the UltraViolet Digital HD redemption code.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC and with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, Megan Leavey's modern look is faithfully recreated on this run-of-the-mill new-release Blu-ray. The cinematography aims for natural colors with just a hint of desaturation, especially in scenes set in Iraq. There is also a touch of softness to give the digital photography a more film-like look. Sound mostly consists of dialogue, light score, and natural sound effects and ambiance, with the exception of the film's centerpiece attack sequence, which offers some spectacular directional effects. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
One extremely perfunctory extra is included: "Never Give Up" (2:35), which is maybe 40% featurette and 60% trailer. The one interesting tidbit is about director Gabriela Cowperthwaite's hiring of a female-skewing crew, another highly relevant illustration about how gender diversity is most effectively propelled from the top down.

Trailers for Logan Lucky, The Promise, The Mummy (2017), and A Dog's Purpose play before the main menu. On said menu, there is a "Previews" section containing further trailers for The Last Word, Denial, Danny Collins, I'll See You in My Dreams, Pawn Sacrifice, and Trumbo. No trailer for Megan Leavey is included.

Again, those who had already heard of Megan Leavey will probably enjoy this dramatization of her journey with Rex, and even those who haven't may shed a tear at the film's well-executed climax. At the same time, the movie lacks much other reason to exist than that people might enjoy it, and even those who do will likely forget about it the moment it ends. Rent it.

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