Kate Mara in Megan Leavey (Photo: Bleecker Street)

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Gabriela Cowperthwaite
STARS Kate Mara, Common

A documentary filmmaker best known for the absorbing SeaWorld expose Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes her dramatization debut with Megan Leavey, an occasionally harrowing and always touching look at the bond that developed between a Marine and her combat dog.

Working from a script credited to three writers (including Bridesmaids’ Oscar-nominated scribe Annie Mumolo), Cowperthwaite opts to bypass the macho swaggering favored by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Peter Berg in their modern-warfare flicks to fashion a more emotionally involving tale — this one examining how a young fuckup named Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) only finds purpose and direction in her life after she joins the Marines and takes part in a program wherein soldiers work alongside dogs trained to sniff out explosive devices. Megan is assigned to handle a temperamental German shepherd named Rex, and they end up partaking in two deployments in Iraq during the 2000s.

The Iraqi scenes are intense, but equally compelling are the stateside sequences that find Megan fighting to gain custody of Rex, even going so far as to enlist the aid of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (since, as has nauseatingly been proven time and again, those on the other side of the aisle don’t give a damn about this country’s veterans). Like other conscientious movies dealing with wartime, Megan Leavey understands that many of the most important fights continue to be waged long after the actual battlefields have been vacated.

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