Review: Megan Leavey

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: A marine (Kate Mara) deployed to Iraq bonds with her military combat dog, and fights to adopt him once his combat days come to an end.

REVIEW: Who doesn’t love dogs? Honestly? They’re our best friends and give us unconditional love and affection while demanding very little in return, except food, friendship, lots of walks, and the occasional tummy rub. The service dog is an especially under-appreciated hero, with millions benefiting from them every day. German Shepard's are the most popular for their high intelligence. They’re especially useful in combat, where they can be used to sniff-out IED’s and weapons, and routinely save lives – and it’s about time these dogs got their own movie.

While a military dog movie could have easily turned into another MAX, the folks behind MEGAN LEAVEY have made something much more legit, with them taking the true story of the titular marine, casting a top actress in her part, and delivering a fairly gritty war flick that’s better than a lot of other recent war yarns. It helps that everyone can relate to the master-pet relationship, and anyone who’s ever had a beloved pet will find themselves moved by the bond between Kate Mara’s Leavey and her beloved Sgt. Rex (a very good boy named Varko – who delivers the best pooch performance since IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE’s Jumpy).

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and her team of writers (which include BRIDESMAIDS’s Annie Mumolo) take their time establishing Mara’s Leavey as a loner – wounded by both her callous mother’s (Edie Falco) treatment of Leavey’s dad (Bradley Whitford), and a drug-taking incident as a teen that left her best friend dead. The Marine Corps is her shot at redemption, but she’s shown not to fare well as a soldier until she bonds with Rex, who’s too rough a dog for the burly male soldiers but takes a shine to Leavey. From there, the two become a pro-team, distinguishing themselves in several solid combat sequences, although as always it’s unnerving to watch a dog in danger (although apparently Varko was treated extremely well).

That Mara’s a real-life animal advocate no doubt informs her performance, and she’s rarely had an opportunity to carry a movie like she does here, even if her canine co-star can’t help but steal scenes. They’re wonderful together, but a romantic side plot between her and a fellow soldier eats up too much screen time. It goes nowhere and just pads the running time. The supporting cast is pretty solid, with Common sympathetic as her good hearted Gunnery Sergeant, and HARRY POTTER’s Tom Felton very effective in an against-type part as a vet helping Leavey train Rex.

Whether or not you enjoy MEGAN LEAVEY obviously depends on your attitude towards dogs, but really, who doesn’t love them? Without the dynamite chemistry between Mara and the dog, it’s doubtful the movie would work as well as it does, but luckily it’s there. No one behind the camera gets in its way, and as a result MEGAN LEAVEY wound-up being a pretty solid summer sleeper that should find a receptive audience among animal lovers – if not theatrically than at least on VOD.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.