The Art Of Self-Defense

What If Wes Anderson Wrote Fight Club?

by Jarred Kiel

8.5

THE QUICK SELL
A man is attacked at random on the street. He enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself.

RELEASE DATE
12th July 2019

DIRECTED BY
Riley Stearns

WRITTEN BY
Riley Stearns

Running Time:
1hr 44mins

 
 

How do you define Masculinity? Is it the clothes you wear? The car you drive? What about the brand of dog food you buy?

For Casey Davies, Jesse Eisenberg (“The Double” “Batman Vs Superman”), the answer is simple; he doesn’t know.

Casey is a lonely accountant who’s constantly harassed, and he doesn’t believe that he is a true “man.” When walking from the store one evening, Casey is ambushed and beaten almost to death from a group of bikers.

During his recovery period, Casey finds a local Karate Dojo run by the eccentric and mysterious Sensei, Alessandro Nivola (“Red Sea Diving Resort” “You Were Never Really Here”). After taking Sensei up on a free class, Casey feels a rare excitement and signs up for future classes. He even yearns to learn something that he never though he wanted to do: Punch with his foot and kick with his fist.

Soon after taking these Karate classes, Casey learns that this life may not be the one he initially signed up for.

Eisenberg plays Casey with a quirky feminine style that had my theater’s audience roaring with laughter every time he was onscreen, which was basically the whole movie. Even his pose sold it for the audience! The closest role to Casey was Eisenberg’s dual roles in the little-seen but very good 2013 film ‘The Double.’ I don’t think Eisenberg has ever been as funny as when Casey brings his newfound masculinity into his workplace.

The supporting cast is very small with Imogen Poots (“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”, “Sweet Virginia”) and Nivola making up the bulk of the cast. Poots hits all the right notes as someone who just wants to be seen for what they do, not what they look like. She has the only other emotional story other than Casey in the film. She also has most of the action scenes and does them very well. I wouldn’t mind seeing her headline an action film soon.

Nivola goes about 11 out of 10 in this film, and it works in every way possible. I don’t want to spoil any of his scenes, but Sensei is basically a lethal Michael Scott from ‘The Office.’ Like the script, Nivola can switch from funny to horrifying so quickly that I didn’t realize if it was a joke or something sinister.  

Second-Time Feature Director and Writer Riley Stearns (“Faults”) brings a very Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”, “Grand Budapest Hotel”) style to this film but makes his own world a bit more realistic. Stearns sets up a comical tone with a rising tension that is not seen in too many films. When he flipped the switch, I wasn’t ready for it.

This film is one of the few original concepts that hits more than it misses, which I was happy to see. It created an original world that was inhabited by different characters we don’t normally get to see made anymore. Give this one a shot, or punch with a foot, or kick with a fist, and you’ll be very happy you did.

 

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