When it comes to us moviegoers eating crow for turning Ben Affleck into a walking punchline circa a decade ago, The Accountant acts as the latest serving. This undeniably flawed but still thrilling effort once again proves the Oscar-winner’s undeniable Movie Star (capitalization intended) status by having his autistic anti-hero almost single-handedly shoulder a movie that can otherwise be a bit a bit hard to swallow at times.
This sometimes silly story sees Affleck as Christian Wolff, a small town accountant whose high-function autism has provided him with an affinity for numbers that borders on the supernatural. But coupled with his mathemagician abilities comes an array of explosive martial skills that belie his deadpan demeanor. The How and Why of these skills is an intriguing mystery, carefully spooled out by director Gavin O’Connor across the film’s well-paced two-hour running time. The What though – as in “what he uses these skills for” – are explained pretty early. Wolff’s mild-mannered small town appearance is a front, as he spends most of his time cooking the books for some of the world’s most dangerous international criminals.
This risky business puts him in the crosshairs of Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), the director of financial crimes for the Treasury Department. Along with his newly recruited analyst turned investigative lead Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), King makes it his full time occupation to find this mysterious “Accountant”. Wolff’s reputation also garners the attention of tech mogul Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), who upon personal recommendation hires Wolff to audit his company’s serpentine financials after bubbly in-house accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds some rather odd discrepancies.
But what starts off as a task just involving Wolff’s wizardry with numbers, soon turns into a violent game of cat-and-mouse requiring his further skills, when a brutally efficient assassin (Jon Bernthal) starts taking out various people associated with Blackburn’s company. Forced to overcome his social inadequacies, Wolff needs to work with Dana to figure who is trying to clean house, while simultaneously avoiding the attentions of the Treasury Department.
Bill Dubuque’s script jukes and jives as it fills in Wolff’s backstory through flashbacks, while simultaneously spinning out a serpentine mystery for Wollf to piece together. The problem is that it takes its juking and jiving just a tad too far. The script gets kind of preposterous in places – and I’m not just referring to the “autism as a superpower” conceit here, although that may be worthy of a few eye rolls as well. There are some third act revelations though that stretch believable coincidence to incredulous levels. And while I completely understand the meta appeal of including narrative improbabilities into a movie that features a lead character who can read/predict probabilities with uncanny precision, in this case, instead of inspired, it just comes across as unnecessarily convoluted.
But while the plotting will sometimes leave you bug eyed in frustration at its gratuitous gyrations, O’Connor’s action sequences hit their mark with unerring precision. There’s a bone-crunching efficiency to the tense fisticuffs and gunplay, and O’Connor stages and shoots his scenes with a John Wick-ian technicality. And Affleck shines. One could be forgiven for thinking he’s just taken his close friend and frequent collaborator Matt Damon’s best roles – math genius Will Hunting and ass-kicking spy extroadinaire Jason Bourne – and blended them together with a dash of his Batman’s panache for violence. But it works superbly, as he flips back and forth between social ungainliness and steely man of action.
Simmons – as usual – also brings his A-game, giving King an unexpected depth of character and a much appreciated sympathetic streak. His story – with the addition of that of Addai-Robinson’s Medina – is surprisingly just as interesting as Wolff’s and add’s plenty of thematic wrinkles. In the final tally of plot possession, he doesn’t feature that highly, but what he brings to the fore is great.
But while Simmons’ relatively small role still manages to deliver the goods, Kendrick’s Dana is a non-entity. Despite the likable actress turning her adorkability up high, her character acts as nothing more than human-shaped sounding board, allowing Affleck to exposition-dump straight at the audience. Removing her from the script entirely would more than likely require just minimal narrative detours. So too a veteran actor of Lithgow’s acumen is wasted on a nothing-character like Blackburn. Bernthal though, once again clearly delights in playing the conflicted bad guy. You just can’t help but root for him as he flashes that now trademark mad-eyed smile, even as he’s collapsing some random target’s throat with the edge of his hand.
What all of this adds up to – and you clearly don’t know me if thought I wouldn’t sneak at least one maths pun in here – is a movie that without a doubt has its foibles. But thanks to Affleck’s highly commendable physical performance and a few choice turns from the support cast, O’Connor delivers a movie that overcomes its inherent silliness to often be rather thrilling at times. Perfect? No. But you can count on a good time.
Last Updated: October 28, 2016