Megan Leavey Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Bradley Whitford. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
With its positive, uplifting depictions of troops, dogs and baseball, Megan Leavey could end up as two hours of patriotic pandering, but the movie’s creators (led by Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, making her narrative feature debut) mostly avoid taking the easy way out. The true story of the title character, a Marine dog handler who gained national attention for her efforts to adopt her bomb-sniffing dog after its retirement, is inspirational enough on its own, sure to tug on plenty of heartstrings. But the movie’s more grounded, somber elements are much more effective than its emotional arcs, which eventually take over the story.
Before that, though, Kate Mara effectively conveys Megan’s awkwardness and insecurity through minimal dialogue, as the aimless young woman decides to escape her dead-end home town by joining the Marines. She can’t connect with people, but she bonds with Rex the German Shepherd, with whom she deploys to Iraq. The combat scenes are tense and gritty, but the movie brushes past them too quickly to get to Megan’s return home and her fight to adopt Rex. A romantic subplot with a fellow Marine never really fits into the narrative, and Megan’s relationships with her divorced parents are similarly broad, with some forced, stilted dialogue. It’s hard not to be moved by Megan’s eventual reunion with Rex, but getting there should be a smoother journey.