Yeah, Megan Leavey feels like a fugitive from the Lifetime channel. But, with a singleminded focus on the bond between a Marine and her bomb-sniffing dog, its earnestness eventually tames its pat predictability.
Leavey (Kate Mara) is a wayward twenty-something whose broken upbringing leads her to enlist in the Marine Corps. She’s an early screw-up there, too, until she finds the discipline she needs to convince a gunnery sergeant (Common) that she has the touch to become a K9 handler. Teamed with a pugnacious German Shepherd named Rex, Leavey is deployed for two tours in Iraq, and both solider and canine are eventually injured by an IED blast.
It’s a double-edged observation to say that Leavey and Rex have the most authentic, developed relationship in the film. The rest of the supporting cast in Leavey’s orbit are wallpaper. Her mom (Edie Falco) and stepdad (Will Patton) are slightly skeevy but hardly deserve Leavey’s snarky spite. Bradley Whitford shows up just long enough to be the sage, pickup-driving dad. Leavey’s romance with a fellow corporal and dog handler (Ramón Rodríguez) materializes without warning and dissipates just as quickly.
No, Megan Leavey is definitely about a woman and her dog, culminating with Leavey’s dogged, if hastily depicted, mission to adopt Rex after she leaves the Marines. The care taken with their pairing even enhances director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s war sequences, particularly those about the function and heroism of military combat dogs.
But everything else, including Leavey’s shoehorned-in love for the New York Yankees, is just there to set up the climatic recreation of a real-life 2012 salute to Leavey and Rex at Yankee Stadium. The film’s leash should have been tightened by about thirty minutes, but there’s plenty to tug at the audience’s heartstrings.