Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots
Director: Riley Stearns
Running Time: 104 mins
The Art Of Self-Defense is an American film about a weak man who joins a karate class to learn self-defence, but soon finds himself falling into a dark hole of ultramasculine violence.
I love a good dark comedy, and films which push that darkness to another level more often than not stick than landing really well. The Art Of Self-Defense is without a shadow of doubt one of the darkest comedies out there, evolving from a seemingly offbeat affair into something really rather psychotic.
It’s so dark to the point of being uncomfortable at times, but the movie is for the most part a thoroughly captivating watch, chronicling the rise (or fall) of a mild-mannered man to a violent and hyper-masculine fighter, on the back of an uncompromising karate class that would put Fight Club to shame.
Featuring what might be one of Jesse Eisenberg’s best performances, we watch a thoroughly convincing character transformation that sees Eisenberg go from a typically introverted young man into an aggressive fighter, albeit not without a number of bumps in the road.
And that’s the crux of what makes The Art Of Self-Defense work so well. The film is so dark and so violent at times that it could have been gratuitous, but the fact that Eisenberg’s character is more resistant to his training than overly enthusiastic means that the film offers some much-needed pushback against the darkness of it all.
It’s still not a comfortable watch, and there is a case to be made that the film perhaps goes beyond the scope of reality with some of the events that unfold, but with Eisenberg starring alongside a genuinely psychotic Alessandro Nivola and a totally transformed Imogen Poots, there’s no denying that there’s a wealth of striking talent on display here.
As a result, the film delivers unsettlingly and at times horrifyingly dark drama with just the right amount of energy and emotion to keep things in check, never straying too far down the rabbit hole and paying due attention to the realistic feelings of its main characters. So, that’s why I’m giving The Art Of Self-Defense a 7.4 overall.