In the Iraq War, military dogs and their handlers were targeted for obvious reasons. If you are a terrorist looking to hurt American soldiers with your explosives, it doesn't help to have an animal track your bomb's location before you can make it go boom. Female handlers like Corporal Megan Leavey were specifically targeted, and this new film documents her story from lost cause in upstate New York to the recipient of a Purple Heart for bravery in war.
Unfortunately, the movie and its subject simply aren't interesting enough to stay with you after the lights come up. Everything here feels arbitrary and not powerful enough to resonate.
While well-meaning and carrying a fine performance by Kate Mara, Megan Leavey is a by-the-numbers biopic without the necessary juice to distinguish itself from being a Lifetime movie. You'll leave being a little swayed by Leavey's real life military dog, Rex, who she formed a bond with over a tour in Iraq While thought provoking and intense in its war torn action sequences, the movie has all the cliches, metaphors, and messages one would have assumed before the curtain went up. Dog lovers will get a kick out of Rex and the other bomb dogs, but that's it. Also, is Leavey's story as interesting as the other dog handlers stories?
Mara does a good job here as Leavey, showing a range of emotion that many of her previous roles haven't allowed to reach for. The supporting cast isn't bad in particular, but it also doesn't scream elite. Common is the stern Sergeant who is hard on Leavey until the script deems it necessary that he shouldn't be. Bradley Whitford is the proud and understanding dad, while Edie Falco is the overbearing mother. Heck, the wonderful Will Patton gets absolutely nothing to do as the stepfather, but stumble through a couple scenes. There are other cast members, but they are largely cardboard cutouts instead of true well-rounded characters.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite doesn't show much flash or skill other than during the tense battle scenes, of which there are 2-3 worth remembering, and the screenwriting trio of Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, and Tim Lovestedt doesn't do much more than retell a story that everybody knows the ending to.
There's a particular challenge in converting a true story to the big screen, especially one that captured the nation like Leavey's tale did. It's almost as if the filmmakers have to put some extra oomph into the story to make it stand on its own. That doesn't happen in this movie, and the result is an okay if unmemorable effort.
I didn't leave the film in dismay or disarray. I leaned up in my seat, acknowledge the real Leavey serving as an adviser, skimmed the cast, and got up to leave. I even told the local marketing rep that I thought Mara was good and that it made the movie pretty good. Less than 24 hours later, I had forgotten all about the movie and I couldn't recall why I liked it. Sometimes, a film marinates from being "decent" to "rather forgettable".
Leavey's story is admirable and Mara does play it well, but the movie feels forced, formulaic, and lacking true power.
Save it for a rainy day on Blu Ray with some dog lovers.