Megan Leavey [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (12th November 2017).
The Film

I was hesitant to watch this film because I am just not that interested in gung-ho war films and seeing that this film focused on a female marine and her bomb sniffing canine companion, I was even more avowed not to be impressed, however that isn’t what happened. This film is a special subject matter and deserves our respect and attention. I have always had a soft spot for dogs and there is no denying the bond between a dog and its owner; this film takes the time to show that that loyalty is something that is earned, goes both ways, and takes time and trust. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) is a sort of a lost soul; her best friend has died and here she is stuck in a small town that she hates; her family is divided and she has difficulty communicating with her mother (Edie Falco). With her prospects adding up to zero, Megan makes a bold move and decides to join the Marines, hoping that the structure and discipline will make a difference in her life. Her mother doesn’t understand and her father is always busy with working; she is essentially on her own in many ways.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite doesn’t belabour any of this; she effectively tells the story, quickly and efficiently without any heavy handiness. Megan’s character is firmly sketched out in a few scenes and we get it: she is out of synch with the rest of the world and she lacks the people skills that most jobs require. Joining the Marines seems like an extreme answer, but that is exactly what the Corps excel at; taking useless teens that don’t have a clue and whipping them into fighting machines. It’s not for everyone, but it clearly seems to be exactly what Megan wants and needs. In no time she graduates with the others and as she searches around for a familiar face, she finds that her mother and live in boyfriend have apparently missed the big ceremony. Once again it is abundantly clear that family will only disappoint you.

One night after celebrating with two other recruits Megan is caught urinating outside an officer’s building, and as punishment, she is assigned “sh*t detail”; literally cleaning the cages of the K-9 Unit at the base. While Megan is drawn towards the unit, the director does not disclose exactly why she is drawn towards this specialized field of combat, we slowly watch as Megan bonds with a difficult German shepherd named Rex (Varco) and soon the two are a unit; both woman and dog work together as a team. The leader of the K-9 Corps is portrayed by Common and his Gunny Martin is a stiff and devoted marine, and the role rings fiercely true. Another canine trainer (Tom Felton) returns from Iraq and speaks before the unit, stressing how important the work that they are doing. He sees that Megan is not a “people person” and tells her that he can teach her how to be a handler, but that he “can’t teach her how to bond.” So how does such a person function within a group that completely depends upon the other guy to have their back? We see Megan struggle with this issue but it is her bond with Rex that gets her through the days and nights at camp. It is this love for the animal that is at the heart of the film and it is undeniable and more than evident.

Soon it is time to depart and the deployment to Iraq is difficult for both Megan and her charge. We see another handler, Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez) shows Megan around the base and shares some vital information about what it is like out there in the world; apparently the Iraqi people do not like dogs and that there is a bounty on the soldiers heads, but that it is even higher for female handlers. The two become friends and since they are both from New York they have their love of baseball to center them. This friendship angle is nice as we see Megan relax a bit and let down her defenses; she tells Matt about her life back home and the loss of her best friend, another male that she partied with. An overdose brought that to an abrupt end and you can tell that Megan is still smarting from the loss of this other person that she trusted and loved. Once again, Cowperthwaite carefully but firmly allows Mara to become human and real to us, so that we end up caring about this character in a film as if she was a next door neighbor. Very nice work.

When the opportunity to rise and leave the base and work with her dog, Megan is scared, but she has complete faith in her canine companion. I liked how the director built up our faith in Rex and his intense training to determine where a cache of weapons were stored or later, sniffing out explosives while on patrol. The suspense during these scenes was intense and I found myself riveted to the screen and holding my breath as the action played out. There wasn’t a lot of shaky cam action and severe cross cutting to show us the more than apparent danger; the director did an excellent job rendering a realistic portrayal of a war time experience and it made my pulse pound. There comes a moment where an insurgent group attacks the patrol and there is plenty of gunfire and explosions, including the one that injures both Megan and Rex; after a trip back to the base for a bout of rehab, dog and handler are reunited, but Megan knows that something has changed for both of them. Megan makes the difficult decision not to re-enlist when her time is up, but has decided that she absolutely needs to have Rex in her life, permanently and she applies for adoption of the dog. The military, being stupid and selfish, have decided that Rex doesn’t need to retire and he is sent off on another mission with a different handler. Megan is back home and an all too familiar pattern begins again; sleeping late, fighting with her mother, going to group therapy, and not really living.

This point in the film made me ponder about the role of animals in our lives and how we take them for granted. And just like we see Megan pursuing therapy hoping to heal some of her PSTD side effects, what about the dogs that were enlisted to being in the Corps? There isn’t any type of canine group therapy for them, not that I am aware of, and just like a soldier that has experienced the adrenaline rush of combat and now needs to live an ordinary again, how does a dog that has been trained to be a warrior go back to being a regular dog again? The film doesn’t offer any answers in regard to this issue, but it was certainly food for thought.

This film showcased not only how hard it is to be a military representative, but also how difficult life must be for those who did their duty to protect our country and then get the shaft later on. Megan certainly feels that after the military keeps on denying her access to Rex, who at this point in time, is certainly much more than just a dog, but is Megan’s source of love and inspiration. I felt that the director was subtly letting us see that being a female marine is even more taxing than being a man soldier; at times I felt like because Megan is a woman that her comrades treat her slightly different than if she was just another male soldier. When the caravan is being shelled, it was almost like the others were saying, “Come on, let’s just leave her, she’s just some chick.” I am sure that the pressure of being a female in a normally male domain is unusually intense, but Megan is an excellent marine and she does not collapse under scrutiny.

Overall this film pays a much needed tribute to the men and women of the armed forces, but also an appreciation of active duty service dogs that have saved thousands of lives with their unusual skills. The film ends on a happy note as handler and dog are happily reunited and a transcript at the film’s conclusion tells of how Megan has made a successful transition into civilian life. At least Rex got to retire happily and did not get blown up or put to sleep. By the film’s conclusion I was teary eyed and the film certainly has a way of tugging at your heartstrings. This is a great family film that deals with the issue of war in a meaningful way and shows us a world that is totally unfamiliar and new.

Video

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression, the cinematography is very good and the camera work is neither evasive nor shaky, the outdoor scenes are extremely clear and distinct, with a pleasing palette of yellows, browns and a wide blue sky overhead.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround is the only audio option, it's an even handled music mix provided by Mark Isham is on the soundtrack and dialogue is clear and not overwhelmed by the special effects, there are plenty of rear channel effects when the bullets and explosions start rocking the room. Optional subtitles are in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Universal Studios has released this film as a 2-disc set, a Blu-ray and a DVD. A single featurette and a series of bonus trailers are included, along with a code for a digital copy version of the film. Below is a closer look.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

"Never Give Up" featurette (2:35), explores the lead character and her motivations in the film.

Bonus trailers are included for:

- "The Last Word" (0:32)
- "Denial" (0:32)
- "Danny Collins" (0:32)
- "I’ll See You in My Dreams" (0:31)
- "Pawn Sacrifice" (0:32)
- "Trumbo" (0:32)

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a DVD copy version of the film.

Included in the case is a code to download a digital copy version of the film.

Overall

"Megan Leavey" is a great film that shows us the love of a woman and her dog as they both strive to find happiness.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B+

 


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