The Art of Self-Defense movie poster

The Art of Self-Defense

In theaters July 12, 2019


104 minutes

Official Selection:

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

Who am I to decide what becomes a cult-classic? The Art of Self-Defense seems to have the trappings of one: dark concept, smart script, fucking brilliant, probably won’t get much exposure or sell many tickets.

In a role (I’m guessing) written specifically for Jesse Eisenberg, Casey is a reclusive accountant afraid of his own shadow. He doesn’t have any love interest to speak of. The macho guys at work want nothing to do with him. His schnauzer is his only companion.

One evening, on a trip for pet food, Casey is brutally assaulted within inches of his life. After recovery, his social anxiety is magnified, which signals him to obtain a handgun for protection. But handguns have waiting periods, so that “people can’t quickly obtain a gun and kill someone they’re mad at.” In the meantime, Casey joins a karate dojo.

Casey quickly moves up in belt rank as his obsessive personality is a perfect fit for learning martial arts, as well as impressing his unorthodox sensai (Alessandro Nivola). Less enthusiastic is longtime student Anna (Imogen Poots). She’s clearly the best, but she’s treated less than the men.
The turn comes a bit later and I’ll be careful to spoil anything, but Casey suffers a traumatic loss just as his confidence begins to peak. Seemingly trapped under the weight of his sensai’s expectations, Casey is forced to confront his past by becoming a bad guy himself.

I love when a movie can both make me feel excited and uncomfortable, sometimes even simultaneously. Written and directed by Riley Stearns, The Art of Self-Defense delivered on those emotions in spades. I constantly found myself leaning toward the screen, as if to help the dry dialogue enter my ears a little quicker. I giggled incessantly. I retreated into the back of my seat when it became startlingly violent. Sometimes I caught myself doing both of those things.

After the adrenaline calmed, it became clear to me that this movie won’t be consumed by the masses. It’s so offbeat, that it’s almost an acquired taste. As of this writing, there isn’t even a release date. I hope it fights it’s way into your living room someday, where I think this film will grow powerful (punch) legs and become a cult-classic. My personal favorite of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

The Art of Self-Defense is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Chris Giroux
Chris Giroux is founder and editor-in-charge at Movie Reelist, an entertainment news and review blog serving the most fanatic moviegoers. Chris started his publication in Detroit in 2010 and has since reviewed hundreds of films and interviewed numerous talent across the country. He is an avid film festival attendee and red carpet photographer, having shot the likes of Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray, Mark Hamill, and more. Chris grew up in New Mexico, where he studied mass media writing while working in post-production and multimedia authoring. It is also where he discovered Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York, resulting in an unhealthy Kurt Russell obsession.

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