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‘Man Down’ Scribe Slams Critics as Vitriolic, Political

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.

Man Down Official Trailer 1 (2016) - Shia LaBeouf Movie

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.

RELATED: Veterans Doc Embraces Healing, Not Partisan Red Meat

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.”

Man Down Movie CLIP - Goodbye (2016) - Jai CourtneyMovie

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.

RELATED: Roeper Says Critics Graded ‘Ghostbusters’ on a Curve

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Interesting. But I think his logic is flawed: I don’t have to be a dead body to run a mortuary, and I don’t need to learn how to paint with oils, or carve marble, to appreciate great art at a Louvre. By the same token, being a filmmaker critic gives you a different insight into the challenge of telling a story on film, but it doesn’t mean others can’t appreciate and critique a story because they don’t know the mechanics of how it was assembled. My only caveat: If you’re making a film *for a specific audience* like filmmakers, then yes, they should be the target audience for thoughtful criticism too.

    1. You criticized his logic with a false analogy. In what way is a mortician’s treatment of a dead body the same as a critic’s review of a movie? I also think you missed the broader points the guy is making about the modern vaulted role of the establishment of conformist critics and their inaccessibility and lack of connection with real people. The wide gap between the critics’ reviews and audiences’ is telling—it’s like 86% on Rotten Tomatoes (the audience score is an obviously imperfect but generally reliable indicator of how regular people think about a movie). I personally thought the film was a moving, interesting, and deliberate departure from traditional storytelling. I think Simon’s points above might be fairly summed up with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d5KovCbU8w

      1. I don’t think you’re right, Frank, and there’s always been a gap between public opinion and critical opinion. That’s nothing new, even for hundreds of years of art. Do you not think that some serfs looked upon a cathedral and said “whatever, why can’t you tax me less instead” or “blech. ugly.”? 🙂

    2. I agree with your “specific audience” comment. But I think you missed the point in what he was saying. You took one sentence from the article and not the context. In the article he said, “he welcomed critics”, but not the system and how it is set up. The “dead body” example you used is apples to animals. In order to be a mortician you at least need to study to be a mortician. He referenced Siskel and Ebert. They studied film, they knew the industry, and they argued. The critics he is calling out specifically are those commenting on the inter-workings but have no knowledge of the inter-workings. I just read a FORBES article with him and saw the accompanying video. He said critics are making assumptions that are false. Basing opinions and making assumptions that are factually incorrect. Factually incorrect assumptions on how the script was written, how the film was shot and how it was edited. That comes with a lack of knowledge. So the plumber into brain surgery idea holds. I looked up his Neil Postman reference as well. His logic is solid. His point is valid. But the bigger issue I think he is making is the system and the lack of discourse. As well as his point about the personal attacks. The responses from his reaching out shows a general attitude shared by those in the system and are particularly disturbing. As a filmmaker myself, I have experienced this firsthand. Critics, and our society as a whole, have moved away from artistic discussion over meaning, intent, message and execution in film and moved more into the simple realm of taste. “If I don’t like it it, it is rubbish.” Or “If I don’t like it than neither should you.” Or as I read in some reviews this morning, one critic who basically said, since he didn’t like it, the makers of Man Down should never make a film again. That affects jobs, income, potential work. That is personal. The industry needs to go back to a more balanced discourse of film. I think that was the point. Meaning, intent, execution, not simply taste and emotion.

      1. I’ll agree with a lot of what you say, but suggest that the sweeping generalization would be easier to agree with — and more accurate, in my opinion — if you said “Many critics, and many in our society as a whole…”. But I say again, I shouldn’t need to know how to paint with oils to appreciate and critique a painting either.

      2. No, he really doesn’t welcome critics. Not when he rips them apart like this. You don’t either, but you at least have pegged the problem a little bit more clearly IMO.
        I have seen enough movies in my life that I know how to pick apart a review, and I know who the honest reviewers are. I also know that I go to be entertained by a movie, not just because of the reviews.
        The movie going audiences are not stupid sir. We know what we like. If this movie is indeed a decent and watchable movie, we will give it good word of mouth.

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