‘MEGAN LEAVEY’ producer analyzes importance of tearjerkers

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

MEGAN LEAVEY
Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom FeltonBradley WhitfordGeraldine JamesCommonEdie FalcoWill 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?

Kate Mara, center, stars in ‘Megan Leavey.’ Courtesy of Jacob Yakob/ Bleecker Street.

“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.

Grade: B+

MEGAN LEAVEY opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.