Based on a true story, “Megan Leavey” is a unique movie about war. It’s a story of heroism, sacrifice and connection forged on the battlefield, but the story is so personal that it obfuscates the political. The focus is on the troops, and in this case, troops whose stories haven’t always been seen on screen — the women and the canine.
Named after the woman who protected soldiers in Iraq with her IED-detecting K-9 officer, Sgt. Rex, “Megan Leavey” might be a story about war, but it’s more a tale about the bond between humans and animals.
Leavey (Kate Mara) signs up for the Marines as a way out of her dead-end life, and she finds a purpose and a soul mate in Rex. As a female K-9 handler in Iraq during the height of the conflict in the early 2000s, she is in the front lines before women were allowed in combat, and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite captures the queasy sense of unease and terror of walking into unknown territory, bombs potentially anywhere underfoot. Wounded in an explosion, Leavey is awarded a Purple Heart and leaves the Marines, but she is separated from Rex, who is re-deployed. Thus begins an odyssey to reunite with her best friend.
The ever-present undercurrent running throughout the film is a theme of mental health struggles. They form the dramatic dynamic of the film’s story: Leavey’s depression motivates her to join up, her trauma bonds her to Rex, her post-war grief spurs her into action.
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Cowperthwaite doesn’t lean into overly dramatic moments, and they often waft by with surprising quickness. Sometimes this results in motivation that feels scanty and shallow, but it’s refreshing for this genre. “Megan Leavey,” despite its story of wartime heroism, isn’t a jingoistic, sentimental slice of patriotism. It’s an intimate drama about a personal journey, a story about true love and companionship — how showing up for others can help you to show up for yourself. Those lessons are universally useful, and always inspiring.
Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements. 1:56. Fayette Mall, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.