Kate Mara stars in effective true-life tale of a Marine and her combat dog

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“Megan Leavey,” based on the real-life tale of a Marine corporal and her fight to adopt her military combat dog, is heartfelt without being cloying and emotionally honest without being patently sentimental.

It’s easy to pour on the schmaltz in movies about the bond between people and their dogs. Earlier this year, “A Dog’s Purpose” did it and showed no shame. But here the feelings are real and the performances are true, and that makes “Megan Leavey” a special film about man’s best friend.

Kate Mara plays Megan Leavey, who joins the Marines after finding herself on a path toward nowhere in particular. Once enlisted, she is deployed to Iraq where she works closely with Rex, her bomb-sniffing German Shepherd. She becomes attached to Rex, and after she’s injured in combat, she dedicates herself to adopting Rex. Rex saved her, in more ways than one, and she wants to return the favor. The film follows the red tape and logistical headaches that stand in the way of their reunion.

“Megan Leavey” works because it takes Leavey seriously as a character, and it studies her journey through her life and through the Marines before Rex is even a factor in the story. She’s more than a person who loves a dog, she’s more than a stand-in for emotional fuzzy-wuzzies, and Mara plays her with heart and grit and compassion.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who made the killer whale documentary “Blackfish,” has a knack for identifying and understanding the connection between humans and animals, and Leavey’s story is in good hands with her. She makes it a human story, not just a dog story, which is why it resonates so deeply.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Meagan Leavey’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements

Running time: 116 minutes

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