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Jesse Eisenberg Yearns for Confidence in Brilliant Dark

It’s been 20 years since David Fincher’s ultra-stylized “Fight Club” invited audiences to affix its cult of shallow, stifled, macho insecurity, however instances have modified. “Fight Club” was a warning shot, providing a imaginative and prescient of the close to future by which poisonous masculinity finally shaped a cult of persona and turn out to be indistinguishable from a terrorist group. And it’s that world by which Riley Stearns’ comparable however fiercely satisfying “The Art of Self-Defense” resides.

“The Art of Self-Defense” abandons the superficial artifice of pop brainwashing and as a substitute portrays the world because it too usually feels: lonely, muted, and fully devoid of objective. Jesse Eisenberg’s protagonist, Casey, isn’t lured right into a cult of psychological and bodily violence as a result of it has an attractive, MTV attract. He’s drawn to harmful, disturbing individuals as a result of they’re simply ever so barely extra assured than he’s. Or relatively, they’re higher at pretending they aren’t simply as misplaced and pathetic as he feels.

Casey lives a quiet, remoted life together with his pet dachshund. Every effort he makes to enhance his station backfires fully. He learns French, however the one alternative he has to make use of it’s when two vacationers mercilessly mock his look of their native tongue. He tries to ingratiate himself with the opposite males within the lunch room, however even their subpar posturing proves too thick for Casey to penetrate.

One night time, whereas Casey is out shopping for pet food, a gang of motorbike hooligans beat him inside an inch of his life, sending him retreating to his drab residence and afraid to go outdoors. When he lastly emerges he stumbles throughout a neighborhood karate dojo, the place the Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) talks a really huge recreation. He guarantees to show his college students to punch with their ft and kick with their fists, after which he makes use of his martial arts skills to explain how he’s going to hire a DVD later.

Completely smitten with Sensei, maybe as a result of he’s the one one who’s ever invited him to affix something, Casey indicators up for karate lessons. This new ambiance of constructive camaraderie isn’t simply infectious, it’s nourishing, and so Casey retains pushing — regardless of his inexperience and lack of expertise — to insert himself into the dojo’s internal circle. Until lastly, after revealing the trauma that motivated him to take lessons within the first place, he’s invited to “the night class.”

Until this level, writer-director Stearns (“Faults”) has crafted “The Art of Self-Defense” like so many low-budget, unbiased comedy-dramas about misplaced souls who uncover themselves after they decide up a brand new pastime. “The Art of Self-Defense” may have been a barely extra miserable “Shall We Dance,” or a considerably extra miserable “The Full Monty,” and it will have been completely satisfactory both means.

But Stearns has different plans. The night time class seems to be a haven for actual violence, and Sensei reveals himself to be a dangerously disturbed particular person who manipulates, brutalizes and brainwashes his most promising college students.

To reveal extra could be to damage the numerous surprises in “The Art of Self-Defense,” a movie that someway manages to shift its gears radically with out making any severe deviations in cinematography or tone. Every style shift will get filtered by way of the stark lens of Michael Ragen (“Kicks”), which drains the enjoyment out of Casey’s self-discovery, the thrills out of the movie’s combat choreography, and infuses even the funniest jokes with a well-earned weariness.

“The Art of Self-Defense” seems miserable as a result of it’s a movie about emotional low-points and the individuals who dwell…

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