The Art of Self Defense

Directed by: Riley Stearns
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg
Rating: 1.5/4 Stars


Jesse Eisenberg is fast becoming one of the best actors in Hollywood today, but star­ring in Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense will be a decision he might come to regret later in his career.

Jesse plays 36-year-old nerd, Casey Davies, who, after get­ting mugged in the street, de­cides to join a karate dojo to learn how to defend himself.

As Casey’s fighting ability develops, so does his relation­ship with Sensei (the instruc­tor), who leads Casey down the path to discovering the deeply sinister and cult-like nature of the dojo and its members. Unfortunately, this synopsis makes the movie seem more exciting than it is.

Despite all efforts on be­half of the marketing team, this movie will not be remem­bered as the “quick-witted, ac­tion-packed thriller” it tried to be. On the other hand, it is an unnecessarily slow burner in plot and dialogue.

Watching the characters speak is like watching a leaking tap, with the words dropping out of their mouths in a life­less sort of rhythm. Alessandro Nivola’s performance as the en­igmatic karate Sensei is one of the few highlights here, as he seems to be the only actor that finds a way to make the writer’s cringe-worthy dialogue work.

Jesse is also well suited to the role of Casey, but his perfor­mance doesn’t amount to much. It will be a surprise to see this movie get any nominations at the big awards shows later this year.

There has long been a rift in the opinions of movie crit­ics and the public. Audiences simply seek enjoyment and thrill, whereas critics some­times wrongly hold their noses in the air and give bad reviews to good films if they are purely made for enjoyment, because they are not “art”.

If there is one thing on which the public and the critics can both agree on, it is this: The Art of Self-Defense is neither a work of art, nor is it enjoyable.

I do not recommend this movie, but there are some other great films screening at Pulp.

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