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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Megan Leavey is an inspiring, poignant drama based on the true story of a young Marine corporal who worked with a bomb-sniffing combat dog to keep their fellow soldiers safe during the war in Iraq. Megan (Kate Mara), like her dog, Rex, is initially considered aggressive and unpredictable, but together they work effectively and are touchingly close. The movie has several scenes of war, including tense, violent moments set in Iraq in which IEDs explode. Megan and Rex are both injured during a mission, and a supporting character dies while deployed. The language is occasionally strong and includes "s--t," "piss," "crap," goddamn," and one "f--k." Civilian and military adults drink, in one case so much that the person throws up. Late in the film, a relationship between Megan and another soldier turns romantic, and there are a few scenes of making out on a bed (he's shirtless) that make it clear they've had sex. Viewers will learn a lot about the Marines' war dogs and their handlers and will come away with strong messages about teamwork, perseverance, communication, and courage.
What's the story?
MEGAN LEAVEY is based on the true story of young, grieving, depressed Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), who enlists in the Marines and discovers her calling after she's forced to clean out the K-9 war dog unit's kennels. Megan badgers the unit's commander, Gunny Martin (Common), to accept her on the dog-handling team -- and, after she manages to practice and earn the necessary recommendations, she gets her wish. Soon after joining, Megan is paired with Rex, the most aggressive and unpredictable bomb-sniffing canine in the unit. After hard work and training, Megan and Rex deploy and effectively handle mission after mission in Iraq, where they meet other Marine dog handlers and dog teams, like Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez). But after a particularly dangerous mission ends in injury, Megan decides not to re-enlist. She believes she'll be allowed to formally adopt Rex, but the Marine Corps may not agree.
Is it any good?
Mara shines in this touching, refreshingly apolitical military drama as a young Marine recruit who finds her calling as a dog handler. Mara may be in her 30s, but she's convincing as a younger woman who's unmotivated and grieving until she joins the Marines and discovers the K-9 unit. And she's surrounded by talented actors in supporting roles, including Megan's divorced parents -- Edie Falco as her clueless mom and Bradley Whitford as her quietly supportive dad -- and fellow soldiers, but this is clearly her film, and she's in every scene of it. Megan isn't particularly likable at first, but as the film progresses, audiences will feel invested in both her and her connection to Rex.
Despite foreshadowing to prepare for it, the romance between Megan and Matt Morales feels slightly unnecessary. The bantering conversation between the two would have played just as well if they'd never moved past platonic friendship, although perhaps it's part of the real Leavey's story that they become a couple. Not all stories about women need a romance, but at least they stay friends long enough to tease out the attraction. And somehow, despite being about the Iraq war, the film manages to stay uncritical of the war while still showing the uglier side of it. It's patriotic without being nationalistic, which is a tricky (but refreshing) balance to pull off. Sensitive dog lovers should be aware that animals look injured but survive and are celebrated as deserving of a home, no matter how startled or aggressive they might seem under upsetting circumstances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Megan Leavey. Is it necessary to the story? How is realistic war violence different from stylized, fantasy, or superhero-movie violence?
How is Megan's grief portrayed in the movie? How do you think you might react in similar circumstances? How does her choice to join the Marines help her through it?
What challenges does Megan face that the male Marines don't? Do you think this is an accurate representation of what it's like to be a woman in the military?
How close to the truth do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers decide to change things in a fact-based film?
- In theaters: June 9, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: September 5, 2017
- Cast: Kate Mara, Bradley Whitford, Tom Felton, Common, Ramon Rodriguez
- Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
- Studios: Bleecker Street, LD Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Cats, dogs, and mice
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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