I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford, Geraldine James, Common, Edie Falco, Will Patton and Miguel Gomez
Among the evil devices a filmmaker can unleash on an audience, none of them are as potent as a weepy dog movie. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an animal lover who registers every distressed one on screen with my own, but it’s a cruel ploy that exploits our emotions. Yet not matter how far they may go with their cinematic stories, we remain powerless to each one’s intrinsic force.
Thankfully, MEGAN LEAVEY doesn’t go all OLD YELLER on us. Instead it harnesses that sheer love and loyalty our four-legged comrades have for us by presenting a touching true-story drama about a young marine corporal (a great Kate Mara) who forms an unlikely bond with a bomb-sniffing canine named Rex.
Behind MEGAN LEAVEY is producer Mickey Liddell, who also had a hand in making the World War II drama THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE and the haunting first-lady biopic JACKIE. Looking at his work as of late, one wonders if the filmmaker favors Kleenex-soaking projects.
“I’m definitely attracted to material that goes from the lowest point to the highest point,” Liddell said when he stopped in Dallas for the regional premiere of the film at the USA Film Festival in April. “I think that’s why we go to the movies: to feel things from everyday life that we stuff way down. In those couple hours that you see a movie, that’s when you should feel the most, because it allows audiences to get in touch with those emotions as a way to help work through them.”
Given the times we are living in now, where everyday there seems to be another news headline to shock and leave us disheartened, it’s difficult to muster the courage to see a movie that could potentially release the waterworks. Movie theaters are often seen as a place to escape the outside world. So why would we want to experience a narrative that reminds us how unfair life can be?
“We did a test screening not too long ago, and some people came up to me saying, ‘I didn’t know how much I needed a good cry.’ We need stories like this, especially one like MEGAN LEAVEY, which reminds us of that feeling of true unconditional love. Even though the dog Rex doesn’t know where he’s going, through it all he still loves [Leavey] and protects her. There’s something that feels great about that, when you leave and want to race home to hug your pets.”
Typically when it comes to true-story dramas like this, filmmakers feel the need to manipulate our emotions and find cheap ways to get us to shed a tear. Fortunately for MEGAN LEAVEY, much of what unfolds is earned. Whether it’s when Leavey and Rex are separated after the film’s climactic battle, or when we see another military dog trying to find his deceased master, MEGAN LEAVEY portrays these heroic acts and emotional sequences with immense sincerity.
“I wouldn’t have turned JACKIE, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE or MEGAN LEAVEY into movies if I didn’t think they were powerful. With the films we make, we strive to never point people toward a specific feeling. We all want to present something that impacts people differently.”
While Liddell’s film may put a dent in your tissue supply, it works because, at its core, it is a human story about a soldier and her dog. Mara (HOUSE OF CARDS) carries the film and delicately handles her titular role as her character transforms from a screw-up to a determined fighter. The film had plenty of opportunities to push the sentimental envelope, but all the filmmakers, including Liddell, believed in the true story, and we have MEGAN LEAVEY to thank for it.
MEGAN LEAVEY opens today.