The Art of Self-Defense movie review - Aussieboyreviews


The Art of Self-Defense is an oddly intriguing and also an utterly surprising dark comedy centred around alpha masculinity. There are plenty of dark-toned jokes, there’s plenty of unique twists and the film is overall just well-crafted and appealing.


After being attacked on the street by a motorcycle gang, Casey, a young and afraid man, joins a karate dojo where he begins to learn self-defence and develop an alpha attitude.

Movie Images

Movie details

Director: Riley Stearns
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots, Steve Terada, David Zellner, Phillip Andre Botello, Hauke Bahr
Writer: Riley Stearns
Release Date (Australia): 4 August 2019
Runtime: 104 minutes/1h 44m
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Country: USA
Language: English, French, German


Themes (M)

The film contains thematic elements including blackmail, revenge, assault and murder.

Violence (MA15+)

The film contains several scenes featuring martial arts violence, punching, beatings, shootings and a depiction of a man breaking another man’s arm. These scenes often feature blood detail.

Coarse Language (M)

The film contains occasional use of the word “f**k”.

Drug Use (PG)

A small bag of white powder, implicitly cocaine is briefly depicted.

Nudity (M)

The film contains a scene of full frontal male nudity and images of breasts.

Sex (M)

The film contains verbal sexual references to masturbation and “doggy-style”. There is also a scene in which a man is briefly depicted engaging in masturbating.

mpaa rating

R (for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

Aussie boy's thoughts

This take on having a toxic “alpha” masculinity attitude is oddly intriguing, genuinely surprising and unmistakably darkly funny. The Art of Self-Defense is simply just a unique movie. Without the typically really frequent use of music and a technique of camerawork that totally avoids all complications, it’s definitely the kind of motion picture that gives you the low-budget vibe. But in the same way that it feels effortless and easy, it surprisingly works.

This dark comedy directed by Riley Stearns and starring Jesse Eisenberg is about a fearful man who joins a karate dojo after being mugged by a motorcycle gang to learn how to defend himself. Before Eisenberg develops a masculine attitude stereotyped and fixed by his sensei, he’s pointed out as feminine, scared and weak. Whilst watching him become more fearless over time and more courageous as he progresses, it’s satisfying to see some of the things he does to stand up for himself and others, but there’s also other heavy elements coating his positive outcome.

The Art of Self-Defense really is a surprising movie. It’s surprising in the sense that it’s usually quite unpredictable, sometimes startling and absolutely hilarious with a dark tone. The big events and happenings mainly start occurring over the half-way line, but it’s weirdly able to pull you in with its steady and entertaining storytelling. And then director Riley Stearns executes it in a way that doesn’t involve too much sweat, but still works out great.

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