The Art of Self-Defense
review by Bobby Blakey
I love all things martial arts, but there are some really great films that take a different kind of approach to the topic in great ways. Films like The Foot Fist Way are few and far between but the latest, The Art of Self-Defense starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Poots looks to bring a dark interesting twist to the topic. Could this film offer up the greatness the trailer promises or will it fail to have the proper technique to pull it off?
The Art of Self-Defense follows timid bookkeeper Casey who joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself after he’s attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei and hardcore brown belt Anna, Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei’s mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.
I can honestly say as strange and dark as this film is I loved every aspect of it. The story is pretty simple and straight forward until the third act where it goes off the rails in the best possible way. Eisenberg is perfectly cast here bringing the awkward scared nature that this character needs to work. Imogen Poots is good as well being the only female in the film yet one of the strongest characters here dealing with so much more than just the testosterone around her. Nivola is great as the Sensei, bringing a subtle arrogance and crazed nature to the role that could have failed to work had he gone too over the top.
As a martial arts instructor this film drove me crazy showcasing the polar opposite of what we teach in almost every way, but it is part of the insanity its
pointing out so has a purpose. At the same time as someone who came from an older school mentality of training there were plenty of familiar elements that are way more violent than what most teach today. There are so many elements that will connect more with an old school martial artist than your average viewer. To be clear this isn’t about the martial arts itself despite it being the center focus, but about dealing with something bigger both good and bad.
This one side that might be off putting to some where it focuses on the abuse, toxic masculinity and violence, but it’s important to what it really trying to get too. These are elements that have and do exist in some dojos as well in everyday life, but that is not what this film is celebrating, but instead focusing on the journey and decisions that make you who you choose to be. The end of this film is perfection and fully redeems all the bad lessons it is seemingly trying to teach you at the beginning to show you the true importance of not only martial arts, but life.
I loved everything about this film and have it as easily one my favorites this year. The quirky, dark elements may not work for everyone, but I hope it gets the support it deserves and looking forward to checking it out again soon.
Step onto the mat and grab your copy of The Art of Self-Defense available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Home Entertainment.