The Art of Self Defense, the 2019 dark comedy, written and directed by Riley Stearns. Is the story of Casey Davies ( Jesse Eisenberg ) an accountant and dog owner who gets mugged. He learns karate as a form of self defense, then gets dragged into their secret crime chain.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Casey works as an accoutant, he’s close with his boss. Not so much with his coworkers, who mostly seem to ignore his existance. One night, he’s mugged. His character has such little confidence in himself, he even gives him his wallet before getting asked.
So, in hopes of being able to defend himself, he goes to a gun store and wishes to purchase a gun. First he was to wait for his background check to go through. During that period, he discovers a martial arts studio. He signs up for classes. Quickly becoming a yellow belt. There he meets two key characters, Anna ( Imogen Poots ), who at first doesn’t trust him at all, and Sensei ( Alessandro Nivola ), who welcomes him with open arms. Teaching him to kick with his fist and punch with his foot.
Sensei quickly promotes Casey to a yellow belt and invites him to the night class. Seeing one of the students as incompetent, he breaks his arm in front of the class. Saying he can’t take his belt away, so he took his arm. That’s the night class fo ya.
Sensei realizes somethings off about Casey. He tells him the story of his mugging. He tells him to be more masculine, listen to metal music. Learn German instead of French, seeing it as a more “masculine language”. Whereas the French are historically seen as a country of surrendering.
He starts listening to metal and learns German. He mans up, turning into a bit of a jerk. He messes with his colleagues who previously made fun of him. He takes control. He gets fired for punching his boss in the throat.
One day, the Sensei claims to have found the man who mugged him at a bar. They follow him to an otherwise humanless parking lot. Casey beats him up, while Sensei records him. Likely a form of blackmail. Casey gets home to find his dog dead. The vet tells him he was punched, but it was a kick, a very on the nose bit of writing. He also offers him a part-time job, hearing of his unemployment.
The next day he confronts Sensei in the dojo. He wears shoes on the mat, spills his drink, and throws sandwich all over it. The Sensei comes out, claiming he didn’t kill the dog. When he gets home, he finds a German Shephard waiting for him, as a pet not to attack him.
Sensei takes his students, including Anna and Casey on a trip to assault a man, who shoots Anna ( she survives ) and is killed by Casey. This has very little payback to the rest of the story.
The final controntation starts, Casey challenges Sensei, who’s real name is Leslie, to a fight ot the death. He warns him he’ll lose. They bow, Casey pulls out a gun and shoots him in the face.
The next day at night class, Casey takes over. One of the students claim to have a sprained wrist, he opens the bandage, revealing a clearly damaged wrist. Casey has his dog sick em. Then he awards Anna with Sensei’s black belt. She takes over the class. Basically the end.
Overall, The Art of Self Defense was a decent movie. It wasn’t the best Jesse Eisenberg performance and at times felt like it was trying to hard. Originally Mary Elizabeth Winstead was supposed to be in the cast, likely instead of Imogen Poots. Though she ended up departing from the project, but based on what I’ve seen from her previous work, Imogen Poots may have been the better candidate for Anna. There were several funny moments sprinkled throughout the movie, especially the Sensei Leslie death scene. The Sensei actor also did a good job at coming off as the ‘innocent guy’ who’s actually a jerk type. I’d give the film a 6/10.
PS, happy birthday to Rupert Grint