The Art of Self-Defense (2019) Movie Review

Director: Riley Stearns

Writer: Riley Stearns (Screenplay)

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots, Steve Terada, David Zellner, Phillip Andre Botello

Plot: After being attacked on the street, a young man enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself from future threats.

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Verdict: Very Dark Comedy

Story: The Art of Self-Defence starts when shy man Casey (Eisenberg) gets brutally attack on a trip to the local shop, he takes time to recover, looking for a solution on what could help him if this was to happen again, first looking at buying a gun, before learning about karate.

Casey starts to learn under Sensei (Nivola), which see him learn a new discipline, only this comes at a cost for him, with his career being ignored as he continues to try and improve in the art of self-defence, which will lead him to go to levels he never understood karate would offer.

Thoughts on The Art of Self-Defence

Characters – Casey is a shy man that has always let people walk all over him, he ends up getting attacked, left for dead. He becomes more terrified about life, turning to different forms of self-defence, which sees him take up karate, making this his whole life, until he is pushed to new limits about what happened. Sensei runs the dojo and lets Casey join his classes, he sees potential in him and understands that he can get the best out of his pupil, even if he does have much darker motivations in how he gets the students involved. Anna is the only woman in the class, she is the best student but is always looked down on by the Sensei who doesn’t believe a woman is good enough to compete with the men, she is devoted to the dojo.

PerformancesJesse Eisenberg is great in the leading role, easily being one of his best performances in years, Alessandro Nivola is cold through the film, which makes him so interesting to watch. Imogen Poots fills the supporting role well through the film, showing the silent battle her character has always been through.

StoryThe story here follows a shy man that gets attacked and turns to karate in hope of being able to stand up for himself more in the future, only to learn a truth about the Sensei. This does show how one person will need to learn to stand up for themselves and find a new outlet, one that will take over his life, showing how obsession will become unhealthy. The story is constructed to give us a surprise in how everything unfolds, while also making a point that each scene is worth the investment.

Comedy/CrimeThe comedy is truly dark in how everything unfolds, it works wonders for the film as it also reflects the criminal nature of the dojo.

SettingsThe film uses the settings to show us how Casey only has a couple of locations he attends in life, showing how empty he can find his life.


Scene of the Movie – Fight to the death.

That Moment That Annoyed Me – Who looked after Casey’s dog when he was in hospital?

Final Thoughts This is a truly dark comedy that delivers on every note he plans, each scene has meaning, which will get the pay off through the film.

Overall: Clever Dark Comedy.

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