6.7/10
18,374
191 user 121 critic

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

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2:29 | Trailer
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.

Director:

Riley Stearns

Writer:

Riley Stearns
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1,067 ( 21)
4 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Jesse Eisenberg ... Casey
Alessandro Nivola ... Sensei
Imogen Poots ... Anna
Steve Terada ... Thomas
David Zellner ... Henry
Phillip Andre Botello ... Kennith
Jason Burkey ... Alex
Mike Brooks Mike Brooks ... Steve
C.J. Rush ... Other Steve (as CJ Rush)
Davey Johnson ... Gun Store Owner
Hauke Bahr ... Grant
Katherine Martin Katherine Martin ... Bakery Woman
Cameron Murphy ... New White Belt (as Patrick Cameron Murphy)
Nicholas Hulstine ... Pickup Truck Driver
Lena Friedrich Lena Friedrich ... French Girl
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Storyline

After he's attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Imogen Poots), 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. Written by Bleecker Street

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French | German

Release Date:

19 July 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Art of Self-Defense See more »

Filming Locations:

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$114,374, 14 July 2019

Gross USA:

$2,410,914

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$2,414,269
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

End Cue See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots both appeared in "Vivarium". See more »

Quotes

Sensei: I realize now that her being a woman will prevent her from ever becoming a man.
See more »

Crazy Credits

At the beginning of the end credits, the show's "title logo" is shown in a "black metal" font, mirroring the front cover of the CD Casey buys (albeit in yellow). See more »

Soundtracks

Man-Eater
Performed by Asterisk*
Written by Asterisk*
Courtesy of Asterisk* and Three One G, Inc.
See more »

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User Reviews

It needs a lighter touch for its heavier themes.
21 July 2019 | by jdesandoSee all my reviews

Writer/director Riley Stearns' The Art of Self Defense has been called a "dark comedy." Maybe it is, but with so much dark and so little comedy, it would be better thought of as a psycho study of male impotence. That it doesn't have the light Jim Jarmusch touch as in The Dead Don't Die, where dry comic "Bill-Murray" reactions rule the raged zombie terrain, highlights the art of understated humor absent from Stearns' satire.

In today's world of women's ascendency into the macho sphere previously owned by men, Stearns has a serio-comic thriller in an indeterminate time with echoes of Fight Club and any men's magazine that features gun ownership and boobs in the same issue. The Art of Self Defense is anything but about art; it is a dense, dark, melancholic cautionary tale of a 30-something milquetoast, Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), who becomes a menace through the "art" of karate.

Besides the overly-long set up, this film has a challenge to strike the right balance between the dreary life of an introvert and the dangerous world of violence and misogyny, not dull but disquieting. The film is effective showing the almost exclusive male training in artful macho that discriminates against a woman (Anna, played by Imogen Poots) by stifling her ambition and relegating her to a boiler room for a locker room.

Casey embodies the wrong-headed notion that courage can come from a punch and a kick. As for an equalizing gun, it is not for the weak as the dojo's rules claim. Casey will have his own take. His sensei (Alessandro Nivola) must face his pupil as avenging angel.

The Art of Self Defense is not for most regular film goers: It's slow and unsure of its tone. For the discriminating audience, however, it offers a skewered perspective on the hobbling of timid spirits by substituting violence for sympathy and force for understanding.

In the hands of rank amateurs, the defense should be for themselves against themselves. Fight Club or Karate Kid this is not. Like them it is in its minimal humor. Dark comedy? not so much.


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