A Surprise Request to Screen Megan Leavey—Review

MEGAN LEAVEYRegal Cinema contacted me with the hopes of attending a prerelease screening of Megan Leavy. The invitation was not the standard film review request, as veterans were also invited to attend. Surrounded by heroes, my expectations quickly grew. I wondered if director Gabriela Cowperthwaite might be the next Oscar winning female director along side of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty).

Megan Leavey receives a wide release on June 9, 2017. The film is based on a true life story of a young Marine Corporal (Kate Mara: House of Cards, The Martian, Iron Man 2) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their 100 plus missions in Iraq.

While the film takes you on a journey with Leavey and Rex training to be warriors, and even highlights a few missions, the film is not a war movie.

“I think of Megan Leavey as a relationship movie about someone learning to value themselves by virtue of valuing and caring about something else,” said director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Known for her documentaries on the protection of animals, Cowperthwaite made sure the audience experienced what the dogs and their partners work through during their bomb sniffing duties.

MEGAN LEAVEYThe film opens with Leavey living a hot mess of a life. She runs away from it by joining the Marines. Through a series of circumstances, Leavey is assigned to partner with Rex, her military German shepherd. They train hard together and build a relationship that helps Leavey understand what love and devotion is about.

Midway through the film they face an attack and both suffer an IED injury that puts their partnership in jeopardy. Leavey puts in for retirement and seeks to adopt Rex so they can work through their healing process together as civilians, but Rex gets redeployed making Leavey’s PTSD recovery extremely difficult.

For Rex’s sake, Leavey steps up her life, as a Marine would, and goes to battle for Rex’s retirement and his adoption. Her shear will and passion for Rex is enough to spark her creativity and she does what no one had every done before. The outcome will bring pride to your heart and a tear to your eye, especially if you are a dog lover or know a veteran who had a hard time adapting to civilian life.

Unfortunately the film has several unnecessary scenes that make it feel about 20 minutes too long. And, a few scenes that you’d love to see in depth were only alluded to instead of being shown. However, the acting is top notch by most of the cast and the love between Leavey and Rex will keep your interest.

PosterAfter the screening several veterans sitting nearby shared how they knew a person just like Leavey and felt the overall story was accurate concerning their attempts to reintegrate into civilian life. They also loved watching the end credits featuring footage of the real Megan Leavey and Rex.

Also in attendance was a millennial filmmaker who discussed the film with me as we left the theater. We debated about the holes in the story and the lack of exploration in the areas of Leavey’s life that I wanted to better understand. But we quickly agreed that this moderately budgeted film was well worth supporting, as non-blockbuster films (the theater staples of the past century) seem to be few and far between.

We also agreed that Cowperthwaite was not the next Oscar contender, nor was the film a war movie. Megan Leavey is a dog lover’s movie about finding oneself through the caring of another. While the intensity of the battle scenes should be avoided by children, the film is of value to older kids.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Review: For Greater Glory

Most poor films die in the second act, but this little known religious war film has a very strong second act. Its first act is a bit confusing and its third act doesn’t give the pay-off hoped for by the audience, but its ride during the second act is worth watching the film.

For Greater GloryThis film is a finely crafted Mexican movie that stars Andy Garcia, and believe it or not, is shot completely in English – A bit odd for a foreign film. The film did rather well in Mexico with a box office of $4.1MM under the title of “Cristiada.” Fox released the picture this past weekend on 757 screens and brought in $1.8MM in its first two days.

This true life western doesn’t fit the typical Hollywood fare, as the gunplay is missing a grand Hollywood budget. However, it seems to be very true to the Cristero War that broke out in 1926 when the Mexican government persecuted Catholics and band their religious practices. The uprising formulated into a rebel army, whose clashes with the government left 90,000 people dead.

The story focuses on General Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a retired military strategist who takes up the cause, an aging Priest (Peter O’Toole), who is killed in the first act, and a young boy (Mauricio Kuri), who joins the rebel army after watching his priest get shot down by a firing squad for conducting religious services.

The film explores the loss of freedom of religion and the various forms of apathy, compromise, and unorganized uprisings requiring unity to be effective. The film hits a little too close to home when it comes to the unbridled apathy and willingness to compromise our freedoms in the name of security here in the states.

For Greater GloryFirst time feature director Dean Wright, known mostly for his special effects work, wasn’t able to keep the intensity of the second act in the first or third acts. This coupled with its length, gave little room for strong emotional connections with the exception of the little boy who was martyred in front of his godless father and silent mother.

Screenwriter Michael Love didn’t create characters of great depth, but their situations helped to overcome that downfall. However, he did handle the religious aspects of the film with great care, making sure the story’s religious backdrop was handled both subtly and respectfully, to the degree possible based on the true-life tragedy.

This film was one of the best low budget films I’ve seen in years, but it is still a low budget film. If you enjoy history or have a passion for our freedoms, it is well worth your time to watch. And, I’d suggest seeing it in the theater for the sake of the grand vistas, although much of the film is in dark cramped quarters.