Bleecker Street 1 hour 56 minutes PG-13 Reviewed June 8, 2017
This film is good for dog lovers and for anyone who knows anyone in the military. You will become attached to Rex just as Leavey does in the film. Based on a true story, it may bring a tear to your eye. But this film is also a good example of a woman who fought hard to show what she could do. Both she and her canine partner became military heroes. She received the Purple Heart and more, and so did Rex.
Kate Mara (House of Cards, The Martian) plays Marine Corporal Megan Leavey. Mara is on screen almost every minute. We first see her as the young woman who is so lost and living at home with her Mom (Edie Falco) and Step-Dad. Neither of them get her. They don’t know how to motivate Megan and are completely insensitive in every possible way. Exasperated, she finally signs up for the military and through failure there, is assigned by tough Sargent Gunny Martin (Common, 13th, Selma ) to clean the K9 kennels unit as punishment.
There she meets one tough, rebellious, Rex, and is determined win over the aggressive pooch. There are some scary close call attacks by Rex, but they eventually bond and are trained to be sent to Iraq where they completed more than 100 missions in Fallujah and Ramadi to sniff out IED explosives.
This film reminded us of Hurt Locker, only this time, the dogs are the soldiers uncovering the weapons. It’s a dangerous mission, fraught with tension and danger. Both get wounded, are separated and had to be away from each other as they recovered.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is known for her documentary, Blackfish, about Killer Whales in captivity. Knowing the director’s work, Mara is a fan, because of her dedication to animal rights. The actress read the script early on and says she bawled her eyes out. Leavey, herself, became a friend and was on set as an advisor, which Mara says was very helpful. She really helped keep the details accurate. Being in on the ground floor gave Mara a rare opportunity to have input and work directly with Gabriela. She likes that the Director is super into the truth with raw, honest and real dialogue. The script was written by Pamela Gray (Conviction) , Annie Mumolo (Bad Moms, The Boss) and Tim Lovestedt.
But the script was a little too accurate for Mara when it came to boot camp. The real Leavey actually played one of the instructors you’ll see in the film screaming in Mara’s face! She says it got really bad when her lack of arm strength kept her back. Mara trained hard and had to learn how to use weapons besides how to handle a big dog. Her own dogs are small 18 pounders.
But Rex is the star in this film. This is not a cuddly canine, but a strong actor who can show emotion. He’ll tug at your heart. And when you see him in danger, you’ll tense up hoping nothing bad happens to him or his handler. You’ll see step-by-step how they’re trained for such missions. And how responsive and smart the dogs are.
Cowperthwaite shot the scenes in the desert documentary-style, following Megan as she slowly searched out explosives. You might white knuckle these scenes seeing what soldiers go through out in the field. But sometimes the hand-held shots used in stationary scenes at Leavey’s home or in the barracks became distracting with no purpose. We think not using them here would have given the desert scenes even more impact.
Common plays a mean drill instructor. He usually plays the nice guy. But he likes to step out of character and this gave him a chance to do that. He likes to step up playing people he doesn’t know. He also said this gave him new respect for people in the Marines, plus how people could love animals the way they do.
Leavey finds love along the way with fellow Marine Matt Morales played by Ramon Rodriguez. But when duty calls and they all get separated will they get back together? This is a heart tugger. Bring your hankie and don’t forget to give your dog hug when you get home.