Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Just a gal and her dog. And bombs. Gabriella Cowperthwaite's moving film, MEGAN LEAVEY

One of the strengths -- there are a lot of them, along with a few weaknesses -- of the new film MEGAN LEAVEY, directed by Gabriella Cowperthwaite (of Blackfish fame) and written by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt is that it refuses to turn the character of its titular Ms Leavey into anything approaching the typical movie bio-pic "wonderful-person" heroine. Megan is clearly a problemed young woman who has major trouble with what we might call just plain socialization. Her "people" skills are greatly wanting, probably due to that usual combo of nature and nurture. In fact, it seems that she joins the U.S. military because it just might prove pretty much the only way out of her currently dead-end life.

As written by that above trio of screenwriters and directed by Ms Cowperthwaite (shown at left), the movie never sugar-coats Megan's lack of social skills. We're not even certain, by film's end, that she has gained much more of these, other than her newfound and terrific ability in handling military dogs.

And yet we're with this young woman -- hoping for her, even as we wince at her mistakes -- all the way. This is due to the filmmakers' skill at showing us various situations in which Megan finds herself, along with the difficult, if typical, ways in which she tries to extricate herself. Usually with negative results. We feel her pain and understand her anger, even if we also wish she could learn how to control/use it more wisely.

All this is due as much to the rich and rounded, warts-and-more-warts performance from actress Kate Mara (above, front and center) in the title role. Ms Mara keeps us with her at every moment, never more so than when, finally, she begins bonding with those military dogs and slowly discovers the one area in which she truly excels -- below -- training those dogs to sniff out possible IEDs in our still current and probably for-fucking-ever middle east wars and then remaining smart and intuitive enough to understand and interpret the dogs in action.

Ms Mara, Ms Cowperthwaite, and her crew do a bang-up job of all this, in particular one lengthy, sustained scene in which Leavey and her dog do that good work, are hit and injured for their trouble, and then keep on doing more of the work immediately after. Though Leavey and her dog(s) were responsible for many "saves" during her time "in country," this single scene is all we need to understand what her work entails and why it was so important.

Cowperthwaite is not known as an action director, but she certainly proves to be one here, and the scene is as good as anything in the recent The Wall, or any other of our middle-east war movies I can readily recall. Suspense, surprise, shock, action, drama -- the director gets it all. (Along the way, she, her writers and Mara even give us a little humor now and then to interrupt the unpleasantness at hand.)

We also get a little "family" time, during which Edie Falco (above, left) plays Megan's controlling and generally selfish mom, and Will Patton her disliked step-dad. A particularly good performance comes from Common, shown below, who proves anything but in the role of Leavy's strong, stern and caring commanding officer, Gunny Martin.

Love interest is provided by Ramon Rodriguez (below), and although he and Mara work well together and never have a dishonest moment, this part of the film seems somewhat "inserted" to provide a bit more popular appeal and to further "humanize" our girl.

No matter. What I have not yet mentioned and what is most true of this film is that it's an "animal movie" (as was Blackfish), in particular a dog story -- so animals lovers will cream and kvell at the goings-on. Deservedly. Cowperthwaite never tries to jerk those tears. There's no need. They'll come unbidden and of their own accord because of the tale told and the outcome here.

Opening wide this Friday, June 9, Megan Leavey , running just short of two hours, may prove the most successful of all the movies released so far by the little distributor Bleecker Street. It's certainly opening at the most theaters I've seen from this distributor. And why not? It's patriotic and pro-military without being stupidly "America first," animals lovers will embrace it, it's feminist without pushing things, and it's an excellent character study, too -- of a woman who can't/won't fit in and then, finally, does.

Wherever you are across the USA, to view/find the theater(s) nearest you, simply click here. In South Florida, the movie will be opening on oodles of screens, including AMC's Sunset Place 24, Hialeah 12, Aventura Mall 24, Tamiami 18, Pompano Beach 18, City Place 20, St Lucie 14, Indian River 24; at Cobb's Hialeah Grand 18 and Miami Lakes 17; at CMX Brickell City Center 10; at Silverspot Coconut Creek Cinemas; at CFB Majestic 11; at Cinemark Palace 20 and Paradise 24; at Flagship Cinemas 14; at Paragon Ridge Plaza 8 and Wellington 10; at REGAL's Magnolia Place 16, Cypress Creek Station 16, The Falls 12, Oakwood 18, Kendall Village Stadium 16, Westfork 13, Treasure Coast Mall 16, Broward Stadium 12, Shadowood 16, Southland Mall Stadium 16, Royal Palm Beach 18, Sawgrass 23, Wellington Cinema 8, and South Beach 18; and at the Regency Cinema 8 in Stuart.

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