THE ACCOUNTANT Review

In director Gavin O'Connor's (Warrior) latest film, The Accountant, the films titular character and our protagonist is one that operates on the high end of the autism spectrum. The character is a math savant who has utilized his high-functioning skills to cook the books for several high-profile criminal clients that would seemingly stack the character's pockets, but may also serve as a threat to Christian Wolff and his legitimate, small-town CPA office. It's a hell of a way to set-up intrigue around a character while simultaneously bringing attention to those who function a little different from what society considers to be the norm especially when the film makes such a character as much a superhero as they do here. As Wolff, Ben Affleck is not only a genius when it comes to numbers though, but he's been nurtured into something of a killing machine by his militaristic father (Robert C. Treveiler). The film then combines these elements of Wolff's personality while mixing in a U.S. Treasury investigation led by the soon to retire Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and his forced apprentice of sorts in Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) that leads Wolff to take on something of a legitimate client in a major robotics company run by John Lithgow. This plotline also introduces us to the obligatory love interest in Anna Kendrick's Dana, but mostly The Accountant is about Affleck kicking ass and counting numbers with the amount of plot Bill Dubuque's (The Judge) screenplay attempts to pile on only serving to take away from the more interesting character study that's trying to peek out from behind all the storylines. And while the film does indeed suffer from something of an identity crisis while at the same time playing into the fact it knows fully what it is by embracing the inherent goofiness of an assassin accountant it never stops being entertaining. Even as the plot jumps from Wolff's main mission to that of the Treasury investigation, and onto the third party tracker embodied by the always charismatic Jon Bernthal and back to Wolff there is always something to keep us invested even if what is doing so feels scattershot. This would typically be a detriment to a film given it signals a lack of trust in the lead characters ability to sustain audience engagement, but under O'Connor's steady hand The Accountant makes one feel just satisfied enough by the time they're done consuming it without actually offering anything of nutritional value.

Treasury Chief Ray King (J.K. Simmons) brings in Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to help him track down the infamous accountant.
We are first introduced to a young Christian Wolff (Seth Lee) in 1989 as he, along with his parents and older brother, tour a nicely secluded institute in New Hampshire that assists children with special skills, personality disorders, and other issues. O'Connor allows us to be privy to Wolff and his brothers differences as Brax watches his brother piece together a puzzle in freakishly fast time while a girl who can't help but hit herself uncontrollably as a caretaker tries to put on her shoes sits in the other corner of the room. Dubuque uses flashbacks heavily throughout the film, but it is this initial introduction to the character of Christian Wolff that sets up just how extremely particular he is and how much he needs to finish a job once he's begun. O'Connor then nicely brings us into the future and chronicles that ever-important routine of Wolff as we see him assisting an elderly couple whose farm has become too much for them to financially bear and who Wolff can might help with sustaining it a little longer. We see his inability to communicate in casual ways, but despite those shortcomings there is still a real desire to help those who mean no harm and only have the luck of getting screwed by the system. O'Connor develops the intricacies of his titular character by showing us the humble and rather plain existence he's made for himself despite the fact he's likely making millions from his deals with the large criminal organizations he's cooked the books for. We see his affinity for art, his attempts to calm himself in the presence of loud noises and flashing lights which initially trigger panic attacks. Even in the art he admires he seems to be searching for ways to cope with his social inadequacies-finding peace in the chaos of Pollack, if you will. The movie then begins to put the plot in motion as King brings in Medina for the purposes of tracking down this elusive accountant prompting Wolff to take the more legitimate job at the robotics company to shake the Treasury detectives from his case. It is here that we are introduced to another assassin in Bernthal who we are given an expository scene describing who he is and how he works that eventually feeds into him somehow being involved with the same robotics company Wolff is with so many double crossings and bodies piling up by this point that how it all makes sense starts to become a little fuzzy.

With the focus of the film being as plot-heavy as it is though, it becomes easy to lose sight of what makes this procession of events consistently interesting and why one may or may not remain entertained or invested in the material. The reason I was largely able to have fun with the film while trying to somewhat ignore the fact that some of the plot wasn't necessarily adding up was that of Affleck's performance. The 6' 4" actor who remains bulked up from his time on the Batman v Superman set makes for an intimidating physical presence, but what is more impressive than his movie-star stature is Affleck's ability to overcome those qualifiers (I know, how tough a thing it must be, right?) and parlay that rather impending nature to that of this meek, but still always stoic Wolff who generally tends to be more interested in numbers than that of his fellow human beings. As Wolff, Affleck plays the CPA as a no frills individual who has a routine and sticks to that strict routine; no exceptions. That within this routine Wolff is making an effort to correct certain quirks though, says something about the character that is rather striking and that Affleck is able to add a dose of humor to the otherwise solemn persona of Wolff and as a result, to the conversation around people on the spectrum and their ability to be self-aware, says even more. These actions propel the nature of the audience's reaction to the film and how invested we become in this character further than any of the plotting even cares to and so, while the story is moderately interesting and the action reliable enough, it is the performance of Affleck that really drives home the effectiveness of this number-crunching drama. Admittedly, it doesn't hurt that in these sometimes unnecessary supporting roles the film also gives Affleck strong actors to work with who are able to bring their characters a little something extra that might not have existed on the page. This is especially true of Bernthal's character. As the actor who now possesses the most iconic version of The Punisher on screen is limited to a handful of scenes he only has a limited amount of time in which he must draw out something distinctive about a rather generic hitman. Bernthal is able to bring a certain type of facade that sees him doing or at least threatening to do evil deeds immediately before apologizing for the harshness of his actions/statements and it is deliciously evil while at the same time completely endearing.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) and Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) are determined to locate where millions of unaccounted dollars have disappeared to in The Accountant.
Couple in with Bernthal the likes of Lithgow, Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jean Smart and one almost has a cast too good to be wasted on the bit parts they have been assigned. The same could be said for the blossoming chemistry that exists between Kendrick's character and Affleck's as the beginnings of such feelings are explored, but never given a definitive hint as to how far they might extend. This isn't necessarily a mark against the movie as it was wise to not spend more time on relationship dynamics when so much other, more vital action is happening, but that Kendrick and Affleck create sparks in the scenes that require them says a lot about what the performers bring to the film as a whole. Still, it isn't solely the performances that make The Accountant worth watching as the script, despite trying to do too much, has several strong elements that translate to the screen in interesting and insightful ways. The first being that these characters aren't just going about their everyday activities, but rather each of these people find themselves in a unique set of circumstances with the film chronicling what they do in reaction to such exceptional events. From the character of Medina who has stayed under the radar in a desk job at the Treasury due to a checkered past and is pulled into the investigation of Wolff for those reasons all the way to Wolff himself-the script forces these characters into situations they're not comfortable or familiar with giving Dubuque the ability to find facets we might not expect to see in certain types of people. Extending that thought even further is to again mention the frequent use of flashbacks. Sometimes movies can rely too heavily on flashbacks to the point it messes with the pacing of the overall picture, but here Dubuque uses the backstories of the characters to further peel back their layers in ways that ultimately serve to make where things end up that much more powerful. Naturally, as the film enters its third act and becomes more of a "shoot 'em up" action movie it loses some of this development and surprise instead resorting to cheap tricks to pull out twists the audience might not have seen coming (and one we totally did, but that the movie seemed to think it had over on us) that leave the audience surprised, certainly, but ultimately more puzzled especially when they might try to piece together the entirety of the story over dinner later that night. The Accountant doesn't always add up, there's no disputing that, but that it isn't hard-boiled entertainment in its sweetest form would be difficult to deny even by the most logical of viewers.