Megan Leavey 2017


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.


Written by Bleecker Street


Kate Mara and the real Megan Leavey both grew up in suburbs of New York City.

Both Kate Mara and the real Megan Leavey were born in 1983.


QUALITY: 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.


  • 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?
  • How do the different characters in the movie demonstrate courage, communication, teamwork, and perseverance? Why are these an important character strengths?
  • 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?



Theatrical release date: June 9, 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

This review of Megan Leavey was written by

Sandie Angulo Chen