Jesse Eisenberg is known to play characters that are not tough at all. In the Art of Self Defense he starts out that way, but slowly emerges to become more sinister. The Art of Self Defense is a fun yet daring movie about elements of one man’s life going awry. Eisenberg is quite the character in this movie. He is mellow and non-confrontational, but then builds an ego as the film progresses.
Jesse Eisenberg is Casey and he plays someone who was just brutally mugged by people on motorcycles. The attack causes Casey to suffer severe trauma which is so bad that he is afraid to go out in public. This makes him start to think of strategies to keep himself safe. He comes across a karate studio ran by a rather interesting sensei, played by Alessandro Nivola. Casey takes his class starting out as a white belt, but then he starts to earn higher belts. The accomplishments help Casey seem tougher and better about himself, however they also have negative consequences.
What I enjoyed about the Art of Self Defense is that it depicts Casey wanting to feel accomplished. There are moments in which he causes conflicts and resolves them. He also practices his bizarre moves and words in his spare time to make himself feel like he is a king. The film is Napoleon Dynamite (2004) meets The Karate Kid (1984), but with some evil elements that get disturbing. Those disturbing elements are ones that viewers need to see for themselves by watching the film.
I did find the Art of Self Defense to be funny at moments. However, there were many more quiet scenes than the limited unexpected humorous ones. The lack of music and sound effects helps to create the feeling of not knowing what to expect with the movie. Especially with Eisenberg and Nivola, who are both very meditative characters in the film. Neither appears to be up to any good.
I would give the Art of Self Defense three and a half stars. My attention was captured the whole time and I was deep in thought throughout the movie. I was curious at moments about who was the true sensei. Viewers will wonder if it is Eisenberg or Nivola. There is a moment of conflict which is thought-provoking, and that is why this movie is worth seeing.