The honesty and comedy of black-belt karate is attacked by violence
The comedy hidden inside the darkness of “The Art of Self-Defense” is the specifics. Each character lays out honest details.
Examples: A gun shop owner explains about the dangers of owning a weapon, an answering machine says: “Nobody sent you anymore messages,” and karate belts are organized by colors. You start off white, then yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and finish in black. Some schools, for the record, tend to fluctuate that order.
“The Art of Self-Defense” is an Indie that resembles classics from the 70s-80s with its vibe, characters, and direction. The dialogue I’ve mentioned is further proof of that or it could have come out of Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach. You decide.
Jesse Eisenberg plays a mild-mannered accountant with a sissy name Casey Davies, who gets brutally beaten by a group of motorcyclists. Following his attack, he decides to take classes at the local dojo, where the Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) sees full potential in him.
He tells Casey that no matter where he goes and what colored belt he’s wearing, he’ll always be his student, and he’s the teacher. That’s his way to telling him not to give up.
Casey begins to express his anger by punching his boss in the throat, telling his cute dog he’s not going to pet him anymore, and his teacher claims to have found one of the guys who injured him. That’s when things get become a Hitchcock-type movie.
I have conflicting feelings for “The Art of Self-Defense.” I was excited for this movie because of the sincere humor, which made me laugh. I was also moved by Eisenberg’s performance, because of his dialogue, emotions, and consistency. And the scene that really got to me is when he tells a guy that his car door hit his vehicle, and he knocks his groceries down. That part ends with him crying, and I felt his sorrow.
And the supporting work from Nivola and Imogen Poots as the only feminine karate student are remarkable. They’re smart, they’re stern, and yet, they’re affective. Eisenberg can easily team up with him, based on their personalities and ambitions.
But there are moments I didn’t like to watch. I didn’t like when Casey punches his alleged attacker, making him bash his head on the ground, even if he’s still breathing. I was also not fond of the sensei breaking one of his students’ arm for sneaking into a sacred night class. And there’s a face-punching scene, and a dog mauling moment, which is further proof of the violence the film wants to engage in.
The characters and actors are relatable, and people need a chance to stand up for themselves. Writer/director Riley Stearns uses Hitchcock material to express that very well. I liked most of the movie, but it left me feeling confused. This is a well-made movie that makes some uncomfortable decisions.
And even after writing this review, I’m still at a loss. I liked it, and I didn’t, so I’m in the middle on “The Art of Self-Defense.”