A powerful love story opens Friday, but it’s not a traditional romance or the usual Rom-Com fare. It’s the story of the love between a woman and her dog. To be more specific, it’s the story of two war heroes who find the kind of love with each other that saves them both. Megan Leavey is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who helmed the great, award-winning documentary Blackfish, which changed policy at Sea World and helped the plight of killer whales in captivity. The film stars Kate Mara in the real-life female war hero Leavy, a marine corporal deployed in Iraq, who, with the help of her military combat dog Rex, completed over 100 missions until an IED explosion injured them both and caused them physical and emotional trauma that put them in jeopardy. They are separated when Leavey comes back stateside to recuperate, and Leavey has to find advocates in the government and in the military who will be willing to let her adopt Rex, like her, is a true hero, but has been classified as “unadoptable”.
Kate Mara, as physically diminutive as she is, still has believability as a committed soldier, who, at a time when women weren’t in the frontlines, was actually in front of all the other soldiers, because she was with the K9 unit.
Co-starring in Megan Leavey are some strong, award-winning character actors. Edie Falco plays Leavey’s mother, and being an animal lover she was quick to sign on to the film. It turned out she had a tie to the real-life hero. Only later did she discover that Megan Leavey’s father, who had been a Teamster, had driven her during her tenure on The Sopranos. Bradley Whitford plays her father, and he is never in a film or tv show he doesn’t elevate with his presence. Common, who is becoming known increasingly as an actor as well as Oscar-winning musician, plays Sergeant Martin, who helps with Leavey’s training in the K9 unit. In the press notes, it mentions Common used a pair of Marine consultants so he could really capture the sergeant who oversees the K9 training at Camp Pendleton without turning him into the expected stereotypical taskmaster. He does bring the character more dimension and interest.
Ultimately, Megan Leavey just does a good job portraying of the kind of relationship all animal lovers will understand by getting out of the way and letting the story of the bravery of both the woman and the dog reveal itself. It also shows the power of animals to heal us from even the worst traumas. There is a great deal of documentation on the influence of animal therapy on veterans with PTSD. Megan Leavey really brings that message home in an inspiring and cathartic way.