FILM REVIEW – MEGAN LEAVEY. With Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Common, Bradley Whitford. Written by Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements. 116 minutes.
Here’s irony: last week moviegoers flocked to see “Wonder Woman,” making it a smash hit. Why not? It’s a fun film about a comic book hero. Much was made that it was a summer blockbuster with a woman director. Compare that with this week’s release of MEGAN LEAVEY. Here’s a story of a real-life hero and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is a documentary filmmaker in her narrative film debut. It’s a safe bet that it won’t be opening at number one, and will trail not only “Wonder Woman” but this week’s expected blockbuster, “The Mummy.”
And that’s too bad. This is a moving story, with Kate Mara excelling in the title role, about a misfit kid from a broken home who joins the Marines after the death of her closest friend. You have to wonder what Leavey was thinking in enlisting in that branch of the service as the short and slight woman doesn’t seem to be the stuff Marines are made of, but she doesn’t give up. She discovers she has the grit and determination to pull her life together and now is only lacking a focus.
She gets that when she is punished by having to work in the kennels where bomb-sniffing dogs are being trained. Something falls into place for her and she pleads with Gunny Martin (Common) to be assigned to the unit. She then shows she has what it takes by striving for–and meeting–all the requirements for the job. What follows are what would be described as her “adventures” in Iraq with Rex, a hard-to-handle dog with whom she forges a bond. But these are not “adventures.” This is real life.
The movie avoids the politics of our having troops in Iraq by giving us the point of view of those wearing the proverbial “boots on the ground.” Leavey has to adapt, as in when she’s told that should not be sharing the name of her dog with the locals, even a little boy, and slowly earns the respect of her fellow Marines when she and Rex uncover weapons and saves their lives. When one situation goes bad and Leavey and Rex are both injured, the question becomes not only their survival, but whether their connection will be allowed to go on as well.
Kate Mara does some of her best work to date as Leavey, with a fine supporting cast including Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford as her estranged parents, Common as the commander of the K-9 unit, and Ramon Rodriguez as another member of the unit with whom she forges a different kind of bond. However, it’s Mara who carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, and she shows the grit of a Marine in combat as well as the feelings of the human being inside, never letting one undercut the other.
So go enjoy “Wonder Woman.” It’s a good time at the movies. But if what attracted you to it was the message of female empowerment, both in front of and behind the camera, then make plans to see “Megan Leavey.” But do it fast. It’s not a summer blockbuster kind of movie and likely won’t be around very long. And that probably tells you more about Hollywood today than anything else.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.