On balance, does The Accountant have more assets than liabilities?
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
One is the loneliest number. And if, by chance, you’re an autistic math savant who can take down an enemy with the swipe of a dinner knife? Then you’re most definitely the cheese that stands alone.
Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge), whose screenplay was inspired by an idea from producer Mark Williams, The Accountant is centered around a character who is wholly unique. An amalgam of A Beautiful Mind’s John Nash, Rain Man‘s Raymond Babbitt and Rambo, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a stone-faced storefront accountant working in a low-rent strip mall in southern Chicago. But like a dark superhero for the rich and infamous, Chris’s secret life entails “uncooking” the books for any unsavory group who’s willing to pay for his services. He travels the world, working his forensic magic for drug cartels, arms dealers, Mafiosos, assassins and the like. But if anyone crosses him, he retaliates with more than a threat of an audit … e.g., a nice rocket launcher wouldn’t be out of the question.
Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Miracle) opens the film with frenetic, fragmented close-ups of street traffic, followed by a claustrophobic hallway, silhouetted shadows of guns and dead bodies. Who did what to who? We’ll have to wait and see, particularly since the movie then flashes back to 1989, to a neuroscience institute in rural New Hampshire. The parents of an autistic young boy are hoping that the chief neurologist can offer professional help. But when he suggests that the boy (young Chris) stay at the institute for the summer, removed from the sensory world, Chris’s career military father flatly refuses. Instead, the father decides to prepare his two sons for conflict in the only way he knows how. The scene cuts to Jakarta, with the two boys going through rigorous training with martial arts masters. Dad believes that “aggression, correctly channeled, corrects flaws.” Well, it doesn’t. But at least Chris will never have to shrink from any attacker ever again.
But even a lethal human killing machine needs a trade. And since he’s so good with numbers, he might as well take an underworld CPA gig. Jobs like these pay handsomely; after all, not many accountants can point to original Renoir and Jackson Pollock paintings that adorn their emergency getaway airstream trailers.
On to Washington, D.C. Following in the footsteps of Les Misérables‘ Javert — but with J.K. Simmons’s trademark wry humor — his Ray King, Head of the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, is intent on hunting down Chris. To that end, he enlists the aid of whip-smart agent Marybeth Medina (a strong Cynthia Addai-Robinson). But – large plot hole here – Ray knows a lot about Chris already. For some inexplicable reason he doesn’t share the intel with Medina, which makes her task all the more difficult. Why? Maybe there was a good reason … and maybe that reason is buried in an earlier draft of the script.
Back to our unaccountable accountant: since Chris is attracting too much attention, he takes on a legit client (John Lithgow) whose income discrepancy problems have been discovered by an eager-beaver junior accountant named Dana (a delightful Anna Kendrick). Wielding his dozen dry erase markers with the same expertise as with his weaponry, Chris blazes through 15 years of documents in nanoseconds. To watch the math savant in action is riveting; with the scene freed from excessive plot points, it’s one of the stronger moments in the film.
The relationship between Chris and Dana is another plus. Their getting-to-know-you scenes brings a welcome lift, particularly given Dana’s head-shaking reactions to this oddball CPA who might as well have landed from Mars.
Unfortunately, the 128-minute movie is cluttered with multiple layers of places, people and things that muddle the story. The flashbacks are interminable; the revelatory confessions by assorted supporting characters are often unnecessary; and protracted fights between Chris and many unknown bad guys is yawn inducing.
That said, The Accountant‘s main asset is none other than Mr. Affleck. Over his 35-year acting career, the actor has received more than his share of negative reviews. He has been lampooned for his stiff portrayals in such films as Batman v. Superman, Pearl Harbor, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Gigli, etc. However, sometimes he lands on a character that he inherently owns, such as his George Reeves in 2006’s Hollywoodland. Portraying Reeves as a lumbering, onetime TV superstar who’d lost his luster, Affleck employed his often criticized air of stoicism to great effect. In that film, he skillfully embodied a man confounded by his own exile, constrained and unable to express his frustrations, eventually walling himself off to deflect his despair.
And now with this character, Affleck finds a concomitant spirit. Here, with only the slightest twitch of a muscle, or a flicker of the eye, Affleck allows us a glimpse of the disconsolate soul of a man imprisoned by autism, a man fully cognizant of the fact that there is no shining tomorrow. Yet amid all his pain, we also see flashes of humor, flashes of the person who might have been. Even with all The Accountant‘s overdone plotting, action and noise, Affleck delivers a superb performance.
In looking at the whole: If the filmmakers were as brutal as the movie’s killers — ruthlessly cutting subplots, scenes and characters down to size — the film could have earned an improved credit rating. However, factoring in an uncommon protagonist and not one, but two surprise twists in the third act: The Accountant still lands in the black.
Rating on a scale of 5 usages of the pun, “Win sum, lose sum”: 3
Release date: October 14, 2016
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by: Bill Dubuque
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart
Running Time: 128 minutes
Here’s the trailer for The Accountant: