When Megan Leavey enlisted in the Marine Corps, she did so because joining the military offered the only foreseeable opportunity for her to escape her hometown, where family tensions ran high and regrets consumed her. She had no idea how her decision to become a Marine would impact her own life so dramatically, let alone the life of a fellow four-footed Marine named Rex.
Based on a true story, the film Megan Leavey, starring Kate Mara (a.k.a. Zoe Barnes for all you House of Cards fans), is a unique military story, a love story if-you-will between a Marine and her partner, a German Shepard.
Leavey, new to the Marines, still carries her bad-decision making with her all the way to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and after a night out, her life’s course is forever altered. As she’s temporarily reassigned to what is supposed to be a disciplinary duty, Leavey is exposed to military combat dogs who are being trained. Intrigued by the prospect of becoming a Marine dog handler, Leavey’s spirit awakens as she rises to meet the rigorous standards of the K9 unit.
Leavey is assigned to work with Rex, a notoriously aggressive German Shepard, and, unlike the others who worked with Rex before her, she is able to earn the dog’s trust. The pair form a bond as he learns to follow her commands while she, in turn, learns to understand his keen instinct. After months of training, the duo are deployed to Iraq, where together they are responsible for finding improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Always at each other’s side, Leavey and Rex become each other’s best friend. Rex’s nose saves the lives of countless Marines during the more than 100 missions that they complete together. Without spoiling anything, on their last mission together, the pair are separated, and Leavey is left with a deep sense of loss as she tries to reunite with Rex.
While this film is just one of many that highlights the unbreakable bonds that exist between people and their dogs, it also tells the story of how people can possess the same fierce loyalty that dogs are known for expressing. Leavey, unwilling to give up or move on with her life as others suggest, is determined to bring Rex home, more specifically to her home. The Marine Corps is unwilling to allow her to adopt Rex, but the young corporal refuses to take no for an answer.
My friend Erin, a self-proclaimed dog lover, joined me to watch this movie. Between the two of us, I’m fairly certain that we went through the entire pack of tissues Erin had in her purse. We cried throughout the film, and both of us continued to cry even after we left the theater. As she clenched an already tear-soaked tissue, Erin, whose voice cracked as she began to speak, shared, “I loved it. I thought Kate Mara was amazing! I don’t know if she’s really a dog person, but she portrayed one phenomenally well. The dog who was chosen to play Rex was perfect. As a dog person, this is one of those must see movies. Bring a box of Kleenex!” By the time she finished speaking, tears were spilling down her cheeks again.
I felt the same way. I appreciated how the movie shed light on the extensive training military combat dogs and their handlers undergo, and how it highlighted the incredible dangers they face side by side as they are deployed to the most dangerous parts of the world. The situations Leavey and Rex faced kept me on the edge of my seat as I held my breath watching them at work, and I was inspired by their sheer bravery.
I admired Leavey’s unwavering determination to ensure that her four legged hero was safe, and how she, despite innumerable setbacks, persevered as she tried to convince the Marine Corps that Rex ultimately belonged with her.
Even hours after the movie ended, the story of Leavey and Rex was still on my mind, and it was evident that Erin was equally moved as she texted me, “I can’t stop thinking about Megan Leavey!!!!” And then, bringing it all full circle, friends of mine stopped by my house to introduce my family to their new puppy, who just so happened to be a German Shepard. I found myself with glistening eyes as I pet my new furry friend, who I imagine will grow to be just as loyal as Rex. Sometimes movies are fun because they’re entertaining, and other times movies are so powerful that they earn a little place in our hearts; Megan Leavey is, of course, the latter.
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Genre: Biography, Drama, War
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Actors: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton
Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
Rating: Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements