"Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite shifts capably from documentary to narrative filmmaking with a different (and decidedly more uplifting) tale of human and animal relations in "Megan Leavey." The film focuses on the real-life story of Leavey (a wonderful Kate Mara), a wayward 20-something who finds redemption through the bond she forms with a bomb-sniffing military combat dog.
As the film opens, Megan is adrift, still reeling from the death of her best friend and suffering under a strained relationship with her mother (Edie Falco) and stepdad (Will Patton). She barely sees her birth father (Bradley Whitford), and once she's fired from her dead-end job, there's little attaching Megan to her small town home. So Megan impulsively enlists in the Marines and heads toward a military base in the hopes of finding some sort of purpose.
But Megan's path still isn't smooth, and it's not until she meets Rex, a German Shepherd member of the Military Police K9 Unit, that things begin to fall into place. Megan finds a calling as we follow her and Rex through training and deployment to Iraq, where they make a formidable team until an injury separates them. As Megan struggles to re-enter society after returning home, she fights to be reunited with her canine companion.
There's plenty of opportunity for this material to turn saccharine, and though the film isn't without its predictable patches, Cowperthwaite's restraint and sure hand behind the camera allow the story's genuine emotion to shine through.