This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Kate Mara, Edie Falco, Ramón Rodríguez, Common, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Medium-Grade Explosives Injuries

Release Date: June 9, 2017

There is plenty of research and apocryphal evidence suggesting that dogs experience genuine emotions and form interspecies bonds much the same way that humans do. This always comes with the caveat that we can never exactly know the accuracy of those conclusions, as none of us has ever literally been inside a dog’s head. Most of the research I have encountered has included little, if any, reference to military bomb-sniffing dogs, which is a bit of a lost opportunity as that high pressure occupation surely has a noteworthy effect on the canine psyche. But at least now we can examine the compelling evidence of Marine Corporal Megan Leavey and her dog Rex.

Megan Leavey is a fairly straightforward military story, but it distinguishes itself with its high-class casting and its crew of sniffers. Kate Mara is sufficiently lived-in as the title character, imbuing actual personality into voiceover about how she needs to escape her boring New York town. As her parents, Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford do as much as they can with underwritten, limited screen time. And a fellow soldier (Ramón Rodríguez) strikes up decently sizzling chemistry with Leavey, despite the extent of their attraction consisting of an opposites attract thing where she’s a Yankees fan, and he’s a Mets fan.

But forget about the humans, we’re here to talk about Rex! We can also discuss Megan a little, so long as she bonds sufficiently with Rex. Obviously, she does, given the film’s whole premise. The two save a lot of lives in their bomb detection efforts and in the process grow as close as any human and dog experiencing intense stress together could.

After retiring from the service, Leavey fights through bureaucracy all the way to the U.S. Senate to change Rex’s “unadoptable” classification. It is not hard to get the audience on your side in such a mission, but it can be challenging to avoid schmaltz. This film makes you tear up, but it also earns your respect. Megan enters therapy to deal with her PTSD and her grief over missing Rex, and both ailments are treated with the dignity that they deserve. Their ultimate reunion is affecting not just because it is always adorable to cuddle a dog, but because Mara thoroughly convinces us that Leavey really did learn how to love from Rex.

Megan Leavey is Recommended If You Like: The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, Homeward Bound

Grade: 3 out of 5 Good Boys