The Art of Self-Defense Review

The Art of Self-Defense

If there’s one thing that Hollywood has taught us is that you should never underestimate the power of the underdog. We’ve seen it in Disney films, but also seen the extreme version of this in films like Fight Club. The latest film to tell the tale of the underdog is Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense. But is The Art of Self-Defense an indie film that lives up to the underdog name?

Yes, it does. The Art of Self-Defense is one of those rare original Hollywood films that blends two totally different genres together. It may be for a niche crowd, but the film is still oddly funny and thrilling at the same time.

The Art of Self-Defense follows Casey, a meek and lonely man who is brutally assaulted on one fateful night. He enrolls in a local dojo in order to defend himself.

The Art of Self-Defense - Jesse Eisenberg

Essentially The Art of Self-Defense is a tale of two films. The first part of the film is a hilarious comedy full of dry dark humor. Then all of a sudden, the film becomes a really dark dramedy. When I say all of a sudden, I mean it goes from 0-100 real quick. Yet this sudden change isn’t jarring at all because this sudden change makes sense within the context of the film.

Now, when it comes to the funny section of the film, the film is quite hilarious—especially in the way the film makes fun of toxic masculine culture. It’s the kind of satire that’s so relevant today. In fact, this world is a mixture of reality and skewed reality. The way the world works allows audiences to accept all of the eccentricities of the characters. Not only that but the offbeat ridiculousness of Casey is just funny to watch. He’s so socially awkward that the situations he gets himself to provide the film with a lot of laughs.

That’s why he’s a great protagonist. Casey is so meek and lonely that you just sympathize with him. So his character arc throughout the film is just so intriguing to watch. He goes from this weak man to someone that stands up to his bullies. It’s a change that you like to see in this kind of character.

The Art of Self-Defense - Alessandro Nivola

However, once the film goes dark, you fear for Casey’s life. There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity and since Casey just learned about bravery, he doesn’t know the difference between the two. So you fear that he’s going to get into something way over his head. At the same time, you want him to succeed in his quest for revenge against those that assaulted him.

Through all the testosterone and ridiculousness, the cast thrives in this world—most notably, Alessandro Nivola. His hyper-masculine performance is so funny but he’s also frightening as well. His back-and-forth with Eisenberg is spot-on, and their relationship eases the audience into the dark section of the film.

Jesse Eisenberg gives some of his best work as Casey. Although he was great as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Eisenberg progressively transforms his character throughout the film. Unfortunately, Imogen Poots isn’t really given much to do in this film. She’s a fantastic actress so it’s a shame that she isn’t utilized more than a blatant message about the gender gap. She does get one memorable moment but that’s about it.

Overall, The Art of Self-Defense is a quirky dark comedy. The combination of comedy and thrills are rare in Hollywood because of the delicate balance between the two. Yet the cast and originality of the film make the risk worthwhile. However, the film is definitely an acquired taste. The humor and dark moment will throw some people off. It’s not for everyone but if you have the slightest interest in the film then you’ll definitely enjoy the film.

Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1471 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.