Film Review: The Accountant

Ben Affleck stars as an autistic CPA ninja warrior in this jaw-dropper of an overly high-concept action flick.
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If nothing else, The Accountant proves that after many years of seeking to properly determine his profile as a Hollywood star, Ben Affleck may have finally found his calling. Between playing this film’s gun-toting accountant and the Caped Crusader in spring’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Affleck has honed his always slightly blocky and unemotive style into something even less expressive and highly specific. In short, he has proven himself well capable of inhabiting emotionally stunted and deeply conflicted overachievers with anger-management issues who resort to violence all too easily.

In what could serve as the year’s most preposterous mainstream release, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an accountant who works out of a strip mall in downstate Illinois, finding deductions for local farmers. Or does he? We know that he’s a high-functioning autistic after an opening scene with a child whose tics and inability to deal with small talk or inconsistency seem remarkably like Affleck’s dour-faced pocket-protector of a glowering adult. We also know that he’s more than he claims to be, after being fed into a parallel storyline in which Treasury Department honcho Ray King (J.K. Simmons) details Agent Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), easily cowed due to her secret dark past, to uncover the identity of a mysterious man who has been doing forensic accounting for everyone from terrorists to cartels.

Each of the film’s storylines, including another one occasionally spliced in about a jokey mercenary/hitman (Jon Bernthal, working hard to make up for Affleck’s stiffness), come together when Christian is hired by inventor Lamar Black (John Lithgow) to find out why money has gone missing at his robotics firm. When forces unknown threaten the life of Dana (Anna Kendrick), the firm whistleblower who discovered the missing millions, the two of them hit the road. Along the way, Christian’s secrets spill out into the open, one after the other, almost as quickly as the rounds fly from his arsenal of weaponry; the sniper rifle that fires anti-aircraft rounds makes a particularly convincing argument against those with whom he has disagreements.

The problem here is that the more is learned about Christian, the more improbable he becomes. At first, the idea of this stone-boring CPA with the drab ranch home and OCD compulsions who also has a secret life has promise. But although the film imagines itself empathetic about the lives of autistic people, it just reinforces the stereotype of the idiot savant, repackaging Rain Man’s math genius into the chassis of a multi-skilled warrior who appears able to take on at least two or three X-Men without breaking a sweat.

To be sure, cinema hasn’t seen a forensic-accounting montage like Christian’s in perhaps forever. But having his accountancy skills referred to as “supernatural” may strike some as overkill. Also, once he steps into his secret lair, an Airstream mobile home packed with neatly organized stacks of foreign cash, passports, the odd original Renoir or Pollock, and enough weaponry to outfit two or three Rambo films, it’s clear that we have passed into the realm of the comic book. After watching Christian dismantle massive criminal conspiracies in a matter of hours, shoot and stab and backflip an endless procession of hired guns into the afterlife, and show an unexpected soft side toward the tiny little bird-like young woman under his protection, one wonders why he wasn’t also given the power of flight.

This sensibility flows through into the dialogue, which alternates between hackneyed and purple. The latter is especially the case in the truckload of exposition delivered by Ray before the climactic shootout; even Simmons’ bullet-eyed demeanor is no match for the painted-on world-weariness he’s expected to deliver. Folding about three films’ worth of plot into one ludicrous package, the surprisingly sentimental script by Bill Dubuque (The Judge) simply doesn’t know when to shut up. 

Well after the audience has figured out the purpose of the lengthy flashbacks to Christian’s childhood with his military father, a grueling boot camp of combat training and a brute-force approach to managing his autism, their purpose has been served, making the scenes drag more than they deliver. Conversely, when Dubuque’s script is onto something good, like the jailhouse friendship between Christian and Francis (Jeffrey Tambor), who schools him in the art of criminal accountancy, it skips past it too quickly.

O’Connor’s direction is as taut as it was with Warrior, though as a matter of course more attuned to the bone-cracking beats of the action sequences and less to emotional subtlety. The performances are similarly professional up and down the line, particularly Bernthal’s smartass delivery, which seems tailor-made for some Shane Black project down the road. But there is only so much mileage that can be gotten out of the increasingly divorced-from-reality tangle of plot twists and Affleck’s stony countenance.

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