Bleecker Street released the first trailer for dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, from writer/director Riley Stearns, and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola and Imogen Poots. Jesse Eisenberg stars as timid bookkeeper Casey, who after he’s attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. The Art of Self-Defense will World Premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival on Sunday, March 10.
Mocked by strangers and belittled by his male co-workers, meek accountant Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg) is used to avoiding conflict at all costs. But when he leaves the safety of his home one night to buy dog food for his sole companion, four helmeted figures on motorcycles chase him down a dark street, knock him to the ground, and viciously beat him unconscious. Traumatized by the attack, Casey makes the rash decision to learn how to protect himself. While returning home from a gun shop, a nondescript karate studio catches his attention. Curious, he ventures inside and sees a group of middle-aged men practicing martial arts under the watchful eye of the charismatic Sensei (Alessandro Nivola).
Returning the next day, Casey meets Anna (Imogen Poots), the dojo’s only female member. In charge of teaching the children’s classes, she’s a tough-as-nails brown belt whose unorthodox lessons involve showing 10-year-olds how to shatter an opponent’s jaw with a perfectly executed spinning kick. Something about the hyper-masculine world of the dojo speaks to Casey, and his newfound confidence begins to grow as Sensei takes him under his wing.
Things spin further out of control when Sensei invites Casey to participate in the dojo’s mysterious night classes. Filled with full-contact brutality and raw male aggression, thesebloody sparring sessions take Casey’s dark transformation to the next level. But when Sensei tricks him into committing a shocking act of criminal violence, Casey finds himself on a collision course with a karate master in a fight for dominance.