The dog doesn’t die in Megan Leavey.
I mean, the dog does die, because all dogs die eventually, and this is based on a true story, and the dog (Rex) was born in 1999, so it was eventually going to die of natural causes. But the dog doesn’t die in a horrific bombing incident in Iraq. Or in the vet’s office after being put down. The dog doesn’t even die onscreen. There no agonizing goodbye scene.
But you still might cry watching Megan Leavey. In a good way. In a crowd-pleasing kind of way and not in a sobbing, OHMYGODTHEYKILLEDTHEDOG sort of way. This is not Marley and Me or a canine snuff film, like A Dog’s Purpose. It’s on the level.
Megan Leavey is based on the true story of a US Marine corporal veteran who served as a Military Police K9 handler. She and her dog, Rex, served two tours in Iraq. After she and her dog were wounded in an IED explosion, Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart.
The movie is not really about that, however. It’s about a young out-of-sorts woman played by Kate Mara who has difficulties connecting with people. After she lost her best friend, she decided to join the Marines in order to get away from her dead-end life in her shitty home town. In the Marines, she met Rex, a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd with whom she bonded. That bond was further solidified in Iraq, where the two rooted out a lot of bombs and other weapons and saved a lot of American lives. Hoo Ra!
However, after the explosion in Ramadi left both Rex and Megan injured, Megan left the Marines and was separated from Rex. She spent the next several years suffering from PTSD and fighting to adopt the dog, which had been listed as “unadoptable” by the Marines for obvious reasons: Dogs also suffer from PTSD, and a lethal canine suffering from emotional issues is not exactly the ideal pet. Megan Leavey eventually sought the assistance of Senator Chuck Schumer, and that — in addition to a few movie contrivances — allowed the two to eventually reunite. It’ll hit you in the feels.
Megan Leavey is a predictable movie (the outline of the plot is available on Wikipedia), but it is sweet and sincere, and unpredictably restrained. It’s a tear-jerker, but in the heart-warming sense. It does not aim for the emotional jugular. It is not exploitative. It is not particularly manipulative. It’s a sweet, low-key movie about a Marine and her dog. In fact, I took my kid, who has still never cried at a movie. This is the closest he’s ever gotten, he told me. He gave the movie an 8 out of 10, telling me after the movie, “If the dog had died, I really would have cried.”
Still, Megan Leavey is not worth seeing in theaters. However, if you’re a dog lover, or if you have older kids (9+, because there is some violence and some suggestive make-out scenes), it might make a nice selection for family movie night.