Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Art of Self Defense - Fantasia 2019 Movie Review

The Movie: The Art of Self Defense

The Director: Riley Stearns

The Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Alessandro Nivola, Steve Terada, David Zellner

The Story: 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.

The Review:
So, you're looking for a dark, dry comedy filled with social satire? This movie does all of that brilliantly and so much more and features a performance from Jesse Eisenberg that will make you think he was born to play this role. This is the second full length feature from Riley Stearns and you can tell he had spent plenty of time sharpening his claws for this one.

Subtlety was definitely a tool not employed for this film as Stearns takes a very blunt approach to everything about this movie from the deliberately delivered dialog to the huge left turns he takes at certain points of the story. There is one moment in particular that everything slowly and sneakily builds up to but you have no idea until it punches you right in the face and I mean that as a good thing.

While Jesse Eisenberg is the big time star of the movie and he fits the part perfectly, I would have to say that Alessandro Nivola actually delivers a stronger performance. His character is as complex as he is single minded and the pure rage hidden beneath a thinly veiled, calm exterior are at times enthralling and at others truly frightening. There's an obvious comparison to Martin Kove's Kobra Kai sensei in The Karate Kid and yes there are similarities but Nivola really takes advantage of the material to go deep into why this person exists.

The Art of Self  Defense is a uniquely disturbing look at toxic masculinity and how it shapes our values and perceptions on a daily basis. Riley Stearns handles the film with a surgical precision that takes full advantage of the sharp witted, off beat material and strong performers he has to work with.

The Art of Self Defense is an official selection of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

To see more reviews, interviews and festival coverage please go to:

TwoOhSix at Fantasia 2019

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