Is Megan Leavey Movie a True Story? What's Real Vs. Fake

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Megan Leavey Movie

The movie Megan Leavey was billed as a true story, but what is real and what is fake in the film?

U.S. Marine Corps dog handler Megan Leavey had her story adapted into a movie in 2017 starring Fantastic Four's Kate Mara in the leading role.

The military drama debuted to strong audience reactions with an "A" CinemaScore and 86% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It hauled $14.5 million worldwide at the box office.

[ Megan Leavey Today: Life, Marriage & Dog Updates Now In 2024 ]

What's Real vs. Fake in Megan Leavey's Movie?

Megan Leavey and Rex Movie
Bleecker Street

Why Megan Leavey Joined the Marines

In Megan Leavey, the titular soldier joined the Marine Corps to escape her life after losing her best friend and her job. But that does not seem to be the case in real life as Leavey cited the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center (9/11) as the main reason behind her military service. 

Speaking with the National Purple Heart Honor Mission, Leavey explained she "couldn't sit on the sidelines" while the "fight for freedom" unfolds:

"I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines as a spectator watching the fight for freedom unfold on television... If I’m going to join the service, I’m going to aim for the highest and the best: the Marine Corps."

How Megan Leavey Met Rex

While Leavey met her dog Rex in the movie while working clean-up duty at a kennel for punishment, in reality, she was paired with the canine upon her arrival at Camp Pendleton when she joined the K-9 Unit.

Task and Purpose shared comments from several members of Leavey's unit who called into question many aspects of the movie, including how the veteran became part of the K-9 Unit and was paired up with Rex.

Other complaints from the Marines insist Leavey was simply assigned to the unit through official orders like everyone else after completing the Military Working Dog Basic Handler Course in San Antonio, Texas.

By comparison, Megan Leavey depicts how she was assigned as a dog handler after depicting expert marksman skills, surpassing the Marine Corps fitness standards, and wearing a bite-proof suit to act as a training dummy for the dogs.

Rex's Violent Streak

Again speaking to Task and Purpose, Joe Kang, Rex's former handler before Leavey, insists he was never bitten by the canine as the movie depicts, calling the film "full of s**t" and saying it makes Rex "look like a piece of s**t."

Kang suggested the on-screen Rex may have been based on another dog called Kevin who did have a track record of biting handlers whom he described as "f***ing nuts," "[a] beast," and "[a] land shark."

Mike Dowling, a Marine veteran and another former handler to Rex, added to the outlet how the famous canine had "an overall well-mannered temperament.” While he could be aggressive when necessary and appropriate, such as in combat, Dowling explained it was "always safe to have [Rex] off the leash:"

"He was a very happy dog in general and it was always safe to have him off leash as long as he was around other handlers or Marines who understood just to leave him alone."

Stolen Stories from Other Marines

Other members of Megan Leavey's unit claimed parts of the script took events that happened to others in the same kennel and "claimed them as [hers]." Jason Wood, who was "directly responsible for training" Leavey noted how the movie is filled with "so many discrepancies" to Task and Purpose:

"There were so many discrepancies I couldn’t believe it. This script took so many events that happened to others in our kennel and claimed them as her events."

Former Marine Staff Sergeant Jesse L. Maldonado who was assigned to Camp Pendleton's K-9 Unit alongside Leavey called out how the flick "discredits the service and sacrifice of fellow Marines."

Maldonado noted how elements of the movie - such as dealing with a difficult dog upon joining the unit - borrow from his own experiences. He even claimed "the majority of this movie pertains more to [him] than her:"

"If we’re comparing stories, me and Leavey, I’d say that the majority of this movie pertains more to me than her, and that’s what pisses me off. I had a handler-aggressive dog, I got blown up in Iraq, and when I got back I became a chief trainer."

Megan Leavey's Ending

Megan Leavey and Rex suffered their injuries during their second tour of Iraq on September 4, 2006, and her on-screen "true story" depicts a firefight that ensues after Leavey gets back up from the explosive injuries.

After the explosion was triggered, via the National Purple Heart Honor Mission, Leavey and Rex were flung into the air, and the soldier was found bleeding from her ears with a severe concussion. The incident resulted in hearing loss, brain trauma, and future PTSD, while Rex suffered shoulder and neurological damage.

The medal citation for Leavey's Purple Heart honor which she received after her injury was provided to Task and Purpose, noting how she was "rendered unconscious by an IED detonation but refused to return to base and insisted on continuing the mission:"

“Corporal Leavey displayed the true fighting spirit of a United States Marine on 5 September 2006 when she was rendered unconscious by an IED detonation but refused to return to base and insisted on continuing the mission. Corporal Leavey’s initiative, perseverance and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon her and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval service.”

This led some to question whether the firefight that ensued after Leavey's injury in the movie took place as no such encounter was mentioned in the citation, although it was made clear she continued with the mission.

A member of the film crew who spoke with Task and Purpose noted how they "questioned" the story of her firefight after the explosion but ultimately decided to include it as it would make for a "better story:"

"We questioned it because our Marine Corps technical advisor questioned it. And what I heard from the producers who developed the script with her was that there was some small arms fire. That’s all they told me, so I’m sure it was a little bit of both: The producers felt like it’d make a better story, and Megan went along with that. There isn’t really a story if she just gets blown up."

He added how, as part of the film business, the goal is to "put people in the seats" and that requires deviations at points to make it "more interesting:"

"We want to put people in the seats and to put people in the seats, you need to make a good movie. So we may deviate from the truth at certain points and say, ‘It would be more interesting if we went with A instead of B, or C instead of D.’ So it’s not that we didn’t look into the truth of all of it, and that we didn’t have to, we just felt that it was a better story if we changed it a bit."

Megan Leavey is streaming now on Netflix.

- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.