The hero is autistic, a wizard at math, an expert at martial arts and an ultra-skilled sniper who is leading a double life. But all this is not enough to make ‘The Accountant’ a film worth seeing.
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For quite a while, Bill Dubuque’s script for “The Accountant” was one of those original scripts that float around Hollywood, bouncing from one producer to another and one studio to another, but stand little chance of being made into a film because there is something too unusual or eccentric or bold about them. “The Accountant” was ultimately spared being put on this “blacklist” and was made into a movie – and that’s too bad.
I don’t know at what stage Ben Affleck became involved in the project, but I’m sure he found the film’s hero appealing, having started out as an actor who embodied the regular American guy and became one who plays superheroes with unique powers. (More than anyone else who has played Batman, Affleck is now the actor most closely associated with the character, and will also direct the next film about him.) The hero of “The Accountant,” directed by Gavin O’Connor, may not fly or climb buildings, but he has been endowed with all kinds of traits and skills, and all it would take is one small special power for a new superhero to materialize before our astonished eyes. But without such an addition, or perhaps because of its absence, the role played by Affleck is such a ludicrous invention that it alone would be enough to tank the movie – and that’s before I’ve even touched on the plot that surrounds this character.
Affleck plays Christian Wolff (not his real name, just one of the aliases he employs for his various shady endeavors). Christian is a high-functioning autistic – thus the movie describes him – a wizard at math, a wizard at martial arts and an ultra-skilled sniper who never misses his target. He serves as the accountant to crime families and drug dealers around the world. But the film doesn’t show Christian’s ties with these folks. As a cover for his illegal activity, he also works as a legitimate accountant in an office located in a blighted urban area.
The movie makes an effort to portray Christian as having the duality of the classic superhero characters, but it doesn’t work, since he doesn’t come with a founding myth like Batman or Superman. Despite the dark side of his activity, he’s also a good guy. (We know this because, at the start of the film, he helps out an elderly couple in financial trouble.) He did not witness his parents’ murder, as did Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), but his mother walked out and left him and his brother with their tyrannical father, who turned them into fighting machines – with the help of a martial arts teacher, who obeys the father’s instructions to have no mercy on the two boys in order to toughen them up.
As part of his legitimate work, Christian is hired by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), director of a company called Living Robotics, to find out where $70 million of the company’s money has disappeared to. A junior accountant in the company named Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick, who tries a little too hard to inject a drop of humanity and charm into this sloppy mess of a film) is assigned to help Christian. He, of course, doesn’t need her, and solves the mystery in just one night.
At this point, the thriller aspect of the movie’s plot gets underway, but it requires a somewhat masochistic curiosity on the part of the viewer to try to follow it. I’ll just tell you that Dana becomes a target for some bad guys who are led by a bigger bad guy called Brax (Jon Bernthal), and that Christian’s attempts to protect her enable him to show off his lethal abilities. Real-life accountants will probably be the only ones to enjoy the film’s portrayal of one of their own as an action hero, even if the narrative basis depicts this transformation as a consequence of his autism and twisted upbringing. At its most repulsive, the movie also has pretensions of teaching us something about autism and empathy for the other.
And if all this weren’t enough to doom the film, Dubuque and O’Connor add a subplot. It involves Raymond King (a totally wasted J. K. Simmons), a Treasury Department researcher who is blackmailing a young analyst, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), to help him uncover the identity of a mysterious accountant who has been photographed in the company of criminals. Not only is this story underdeveloped, it also doesn’t do anything to advance the plot. But we’re not done yet. It turns out that Christian was once in prison, where he became friendly with an accountant named Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor) who taught him all the crafty tricks of the trade, and Christian is still in contact with him. This thread is not developed either (is Francis supposed to be a substitute father figure for Christian?) and adds nothing. And there’s even a surprise ending that’s supposed to pull everything together. But it, too, feels forced and unbelievable.
In the midst of all this mess, Ben Affleck stalks around with a single expression on his face throughout the movie (once or twice, a hint of a smile is visible, and this is more exciting than any of the fight scenes). All in all, “The Accountant” is a highly cringe-worthy affair. It seems emblematic of a certain kind of Hollywood filmmaking whose guiding concept is dubious from the start, and the way in which this concept was brought to the screen let it get completely out of control. All those who declined to produce it over the years were right. And those who thought it had a chance were sorely mistaken.
The Accountant Directed by Gavin O’Connor; written by Bill Dubuque; With Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jean Smart