I sat spellbound, eyes glued to the big screen and watched as the title character (brilliantly played by Kate Mara) transformed from restless young woman to Marine Corporal to war hero.
But the path was far from linear.
After escaping from a humdrum, small-town life in Valley Cottage, New York, Megan Leavey finds herself undergoing grueling training at Camp Pendleton. As punishment for a lapse in judgment, she is assigned kennel-cleaning duty for bomb-sniffing dogs. There, she encounters Rex, an unpredictable, aggressive German Shepherd, who bites the hand of an officer, shattering it in six places.
Initially terrified, Megan heeds the advice of her superior (Common) and fellow handler (Tom Felton) and learns how to project confidence and compassion when dealing with Rex. Megan and Rex form a deep bond that is strengthened in combat and later cemented in retirement.
The war scenes in Iraq include several tense and violent moments when IEDs explode and local establishments are searched. Megan and Rex are injured during a mission, and an officer dies while deployed. While I found these scenes difficult to watch, they did succeed in capturing the horror of the Iraq war. Later scenes provide insight into the frightening and lingering effects of PTSD.
Edie Falco delivers a strong performance as Megan’s shrill, unsupportive mother while Bradley Whitford plays a more compassionate father. Fellow Marine Matt Morales (played by Ramón Rodrigez) appears in several scenes as Megan’s love interest. But the love affair is short-lived…Megan’s true love is Rex.
I would have liked more specifics about the small-town hell that Megan was so desperate to escape. A few quick scenes glossed over a strained relationship with Mom and Megan’s poor people skills, leaving several gaping holes.
A must-see film that will linger in consciousness. Remember to bring tissue!