How Alessandro Nivola Characterizes Toxic Masculinity In 'The Art of Self-Defense'

Nivola brilliantly explores the danger behind following someone who may initially seem too zany to ever pose a threat.

While his role as Tony Soprano’s mentor Dickie Moltisanti in this weekend’s The Many Saints of Newark could be hailed as a “breakout,” Alessandro Nivola has consistently been a versatile working actor. Between regular appearances in major blockbusters (Face/Off, Jurassic Park III) and acclaimed indies (Disobedience, You Were Never Really Here, A Most Violent Year) alike, Nivola is hardly an unfamiliar face whenever he pops up. He’s just rarely granted sizable roles that showcase the versatility of his talent.

However, in 2019 Nivola delivered the performance of his career in the idiosyncratic dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, a role that required him to flesh out the stages of toxic masculinity through the guise of martial arts. The film is never subtle about its underlying themes; the shock comes from the bluntness with which writer/director Riley Stearns treats the issue. Nivola is called upon to be comically hyper-masculine, and gradually reveals how a seemingly parodoxical character is able to goad apathetic men into unleashing their inner violence.

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