Screenwriter Adam G. Simon won’t let nasty reviews ruin the satisfaction of seeing his story on the big screen.
His new movie, “Man Down,” stars top talent like Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Jai Courtney, and Kate Mara. The film is the culmination of Simon’s very personal struggles mixed with his witnessing firsthand what some veterans endure.
The film follows a returning veteran (LaBeouf) walking a post-apocalyptic America in search of his family. He’s still reeling from a traumatic event from his days overseas.
There’s only one problem for Simon – the critics.
They mostly hate “Man Down” and are ignoring the flick’s noble intentions and tough lead performance. They’ve slammed the film as “self indulgent” and a barrage of other cliched criticisms.
One problem, Simon says, is the groupthink of critic circles and the “popular kids in critics’ circles” like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. They influence the opinion of bloggers and critics for smaller outlets, he contends.
Political posturing only makes it worse, he argues.
“If you endorse the film … then you’re indicting the Obama administration for cheating the veterans. That’s if you’re on Left. At least, that’s the perception,” he says. “If you’re on the Right, you can’t really support this film because it’s also an indictment of every presidency’s treatment of veterans.”
However, above politics, is those damn critics. It’s a process Simon says he is learning to accept.
“There’s so many issues I have with the whole critic’s environment we live in,” he says.
“What I loved about the time period where I grew up was you had Siskel and Ebert … Siskel and Ebert, you had discourse. Two people together. It was physical. Both men came from a writing background. They understood story. Roger Ebert published books, wrote screenplays, co wrote screenplays, he was in the fight for part of his life. Siskel studied philosophy. With them you had discourse, argument over a film. You got perspective from two minds wrestling to see a piece from all sides. It was a debate, a democracy, a struggle to understand meaning. It required two minds and friendly, sometimes passionate argument. Now the argument is removed. Its single opinion. We went from a democracy to a dictatorship.”
Today’s critics “have never worked in the industry, but they watch a lot of movies so they feel they can pick it apart,” he says.
Simon calls it the “equivalent of a plumber going into brain surgery.”
Still, it’s not all bad.
Simon is impressed with the grassroots reaction “Man Down” has had through hosted screenings across the country.
“Shia’s done dozens of screenings across the country, some where people didn’t even know he was there, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says, adding he’s proud of the positive reaction “within the veteran community.”
He’s not even entirely mad at critics. He’s enjoyed some negative reviews of “Man Down,” accepting the criticism, as long as it comes from a place of research and honesty. When it goes personal is when it puts a thorn in his side.
The story itself is deeply personal to him.
After dealing with homelessness and bankruptcy, Simon faced some of the same issues some veterans confront.
Modern day critics, however, don’t bother to study the film they’re critiquing. When “everybody has a voice,” Simon says, the most views go to whomever can be “the most vitriolic.”
Focusing on his film and the important issues it digs into, Simon wants to remind audiences, “people gave their blood, sweat and tears to this thing.”
In the wake of negative reviews, Simon reached out to multiple critics to directly talk about the film and the issues of PTSD. Though he has no intention of changing their minds about his movie, Simon says a drink or meeting between filmmaker and critic could bridge some gaps by getting passionate people to see both sides of film.
Not everyone found the idea encouraging, though.
“The responses were insane. Everything from ‘how dare you contact me’ to ‘the audacity of a writer to contact a critic,’ to, ‘I don’t do redactions,'” he says.
Simon’s “favorite” response?
“I’m busy through the new year, but a word to assist your longevity in this field, take your stripes and move on.”
“So basically, sit down and shut up. I’m too busy to talk to you. The same feeling I got when I was homeless,” Simon says. “Everyone sees you but no one wants to really see you.”
“Man Down” is in theaters now. You can find theaters here.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with expanded quotes from Simon.