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Movie Review

Sometimes, the only thing that can turn a troubled life around is the love of a good dog.

And sometimes, when a life is troubled enough, even a bad dog can be enough.

That's the story of Megan and Rex.

In the wake of a tragic loss of a friend in high school, Megan's numb to life and numbing her life with alcohol. She can't keep a job. She has no friends. Her mother, Jackie, is always on her case for something.

One day in 2001, she decides a radical change is necessary: So she enlists with the Marines.

But basic training is hard, and Megan's still struggling. When she gets busted for public urination on base (after going out drinking with some other Marines one night), it seems like the young marine is about to crash and burn again.

The discipline doled out to her—cleaning the kennels of the K9 bomb-sniffing dog unit—proves a providential turning point, however. It's there that Megan meets Rex, an ill-tempered, teeth-baring German shepherd with an attitude problem as big as Megan's.

For the first time since enlisting, Megan has a sense of purpose: She wants to become one of the Marine's dog handlers. And about the time she accomplishes everything necessary to join the program, Rex bites his handler's hand, breaking multiple bones. Rex gets reassigned to Megan. She knows there's a good dog lurking under all that bad behavior.

Soon Megan and Rex are shipped out to Iraq to sniff out bombs and munitions. But the real battle for Megan and Rex will begin in earnest after they're both wounded in combat there.

Positive Elements

Once Megan finds something to live and fight for—namely earning Rex's trust and working with him to become a top-notch K9 "soldier"—she and her canine charge repeatedly demonstrate courage, conviction and perseverance.

We're told that female dog handlers typically aren't deployed into active, front-line combat situations. But Megan and Rex are the exception, and they both perform heroically—above and beyond the call of duty, as the saying goes. Megan is awarded a Purple Heart after she and Rex are both injured in battle.

Both Megan and Rex are shipped back to the states for recovery and rehab. Megan is at the end of her enlistment commitment, and she decides that she can't bear the thought of re-upping and going back into combat.

But another conflict awaits: the one that she faces trying to adopt Rex. The dog has earned the ire of a Marine veterinarian who believes Rex is too dangerous, too damaged, too volatile to be adopted. That woman brands Rex "unadoptable." Rex is assigned to a new handler and sent back to Iraq.

Megan, despondent about being unable to adopt her beloved furry partner, finds encouragement from her father, Bob. He encourages her, saying, "The thing is, you've got to keep living. You got to figure out what it would take to make it worth it." "Rex would be worth it," she responds. And so she goes to a different sort of "war" to earn the right to adopt her former bomb-sniffing dog, going as far as contacting a U.S. senator to have that "unadoptable" label overturned.

Serving in the Marines, meanwhile, is shown to be as stereotypically difficult in the beginning as we've often seen it in movies. (See Other Negative Content.) That said, once past some of the initial "hazing," these Marines are shown to be men and women of honor and integrity who would do anything to save each other. And though he doesn't agree with the decision to make Rex "unadoptable," Megan's superior officer in the dog-training program does try to help her understand the logic involved. "They aren't pets," Gunnery Sgt. Massey explains. "They aren't even dogs anymore. They're warriors. And they come back with all the same issues we do."

Indeed, Megan returns from Iraq as someone who's wounded and broken in different ways than before. She has nightmares. She jumps at the sound of any loud, unexpected noise. She verbally lambasts a man who leaves his dog in a hot car. Those aren't good things, obviously. But the film gives us a picture of what many veterans returning from combat may experience. Megan's primary source of support during this time is a post-traumatic stress disorder support group, where she's able to express some of her emotions.

In one of those meetings, when it's unclear if she'll ever get to adopt Rex, she's asked by the facilitator what she would say to Rex if she could tell him anything she wanted. Megan responds, "I'd thank him for trying to teach me what love is."

Spiritual Content

Someone says of a Marine killed in combat, "He was a good man. God bless his soul."

There are a few passing verbal and visual references to Islam when Megan is stationed in Iraq. A fellow Marine, Matt Morales, tells her, "Iraqis don't like dogs. it's in their religion." Marines (and Rex) search an Iraqi's house for weapons, moving aside a large stack of prayer rugs to find where the cache is hidden.

Sexual Content

Megan and Morales eventually become lovers. We see them kissing. A scene shows him (clothed) on top of her. They're also shown in bed together, him shirtless, in a scene that implies that they've spent the night together.

Female marines getting dressed in their barracks are shown wearing sports bras. Megan verbally references the infidelity her mother committed that led to her parents' divorce. We see shirtless Marines and twice hear the phrase, "Panties in a pretzel."

Violent Content

Morales tells Megan that there's a deep Iraqi religious and cultural prejudice against female soldiers, especially dog-handlers. He says some insurgent Muslims place a high bounty placed on their heads, and that Iraqi enemies want to rape and murder American servicewomen. Elsewhere, American military personnel have multiple very tense encounters with wary Iraqi civilians.

Rex bites his original handler, and we hear that the attack broke six bones in the man's hand. During dog training, Megan gets bitten in the backside by Rex, too (something Megan's fellow Marines meanly set her up for).

Megan Leavey and Rex are wounded in a battle that begins with both of them being blasted back by an exploding IED. That explosion doesn't completely incapacitate either of them, but they're both wounded. (We see blood dripping from Megan's ruptured eardrums.)

Megan insists that she and Rex are still fit to fight (though another soldier suggests that Megan likely has a concussion). Her argument convinces others, and Megan's platoon follows her lead, going after a nest of insurgents in a bombed-out village. More combat subsequently includes enemy fighters being shot and killed in an intense firefight. Enemy RPGs yield multiple explosions that shower Americans with debris. Another explosion blasts Megan out of the vehicle she's trying to get into. After the battle, wounded Megan is eventually medevacked out of the Iraq, and we see her recovering in hospital stateside.

A painful conversation between Megan and her greedy mother revolves around the older woman asking Megan how much money they'd receive if Megan were to be killed in action. Megan is utterly—and rightly—disgusted by her mother's inquiry.

Crude or Profane Language

Two f-words, about 15 s-words. There's one use of the f-word stand-in "fricking." God's name is misused nearly 10 times (including four pairings with "d--n"), while Jesus' name is abused three times. We hear "a--" and "p---" four times each, while "a--hole," "d--n," "b--ch," "h---" and "douchebag" are used one to three times each. "Crap," "sucks" and "idiot" are spoken as well.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A couple of scenes involving alcohol take place early in the film. Megan gets fired from a civilian job for being hung over too frequently. She has a beer at a bar. A scene with fellow female marines shows them tossing back shots before they stumble back to the barracks, obviously inebriated.

We also hear a story about a high school student who overdosed and died after ingesting a fatal combination of alcohol and unnamed drugs.

Other Negative Elements

Marine culture has never been known for being gentle or coddling. Still, when a master sergeant calls new recruits "screw ups, laggards and losers," among other bullying putdowns, it's pretty wince-inducing. Elsewhere in the film, Iraqis are called "hadjis" by American soldiers.

A drunk woman vomits. Megan, also intoxicated, urinates behind a bush, but gets caught by base military police. We see Megan as she cleans up myriad dog droppings (as punishment for her misbehavior) in a smelly kennel. Elsewhere, Megan says to Rex, "Did you just fart? That's disgusting."

Conclusion

Megan Leavey is an inspiring story about two war heroes: a determined young woman and the dog she unexpectedly bonds with while serving in the Marines. Megan has significant hurdles to overcome in her life; and her dog, Rex, does as well. Together they help each other to a better place—and they put their lives on the line for their country along with way.

Unlike some war movies these days, Megan Leavey doesn't try to do anything more than tell that poignant story. There's no critical, political subtext critiquing the war or American foreign policy. Instead, we've got an unlikely genre mashup—dog movie meets war movie—one that shows Megan, Rex and the Marines in general as warriors willing to sacrifice to do their difficult jobs.

That said, Megan Leavey is a war movie. As such, it depicts jarring battlefield violence and includes about as much profanity as moviemakers can get away with in a PG-13 movie these days. (There's the suggestion of a sexual relationship, too, though we don't really see much of that.) Those elements probably make Megan's story a more believable one, but they might also be enough to make parents think twice about when it comes to younger viewers of this otherwise stirring story.

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Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Kate Mara as Cpl. Megan Leavey; Edie Falco as Jackie Leavey; Bradley Whitford as Bob Leavey; Common as Gunnery Sgt. Massey; Ramón Rodríguez as Cpl. Matt Morales; Tom Felton as Andrew Dean

Director

Gabriela Cowperthwaite ( )

Distributor

Bleeker Street

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

June 9, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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