D: Gavin O’Connor / 128m
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger, Robert C. Treveiler
To all intents and purposes, Christian Wolff (Affleck) is a public certified accountant who also happens to have high-functioning autism. He’s occasionally blunt to the point of rudeness, has trouble interacting with other people in certain situations, does his best to fit in, lives alone in a spartan apartment, and is the man to go to if you’re a big time criminal organisation and you want your “books” to look whiter than white. Over time he’s attracted the attention of the US Treasury Department, and in particular, soon-to-be-retired agent Ray King (Simmons), who wants to track Wolff down before he goes. To this end, he coerces Treasury analyst Marybeth Medina (Addai-Robinson) into helping him.
Meanwhile, Wolff is hired by a legitimate company, Living Robotics, to audit their accounts in full as one of their own analysts, Dana Cummings (Kendrick), has spotted what appears to be a huge, unaccounted loss. The company is owned by Lamar Blackburn (Lithgow), and it makes high-end prosthetic limbs. Wolff soon goes to work and it doesn’t take him long to identify just how much money has been stolen from the company – over $61m. But the apparent suicide of one of the company’s senior executives (and a lifelong friend of Blackburn’s) brings Wolff’s investigation to an abrupt halt. But Wolff is unable to leave it at that and intends to find out if the senior executive was responsible.
There follows an attempt on his life which he foils, and he learns that Dana is being targeted as well. He gets to her in time and going against his usual “mission parameters” he determines to keep her safe. In the meantime, Medina has managed to put a name to the face of the “Accountant” and has tracked him to where he lives, but with Wolff having gone to ground after the attempts on his and Dana’s lives, the Treasury Department is no nearer to catching him. Holed up in a fancy hotel, he and Dana develop a friendship, while Wolff figures out that Living Robotics hasn’t been stolen from, but that they’re operating a scam designed to inflate their share price when the company goes public. Now that he knows what’s been going on and why, Wolff decides to pay Lamar Blackburn a home visit… but Blackburn has a small, private army, led by The Assassin (Bernthal), in place to ensure that Wolff doesn’t get to “finish the job” he started.
On the surface, The Accountant is a slightly above average Hollywood action thriller with a good cast and good production values. Its decision to make its central character suffer from autism – even if it’s at the high end of the range – is different, and for the most part, works thanks to Affleck’s studied, and muted, performance (the script does, however, have to keep reminding itself that Wolff is indeed autistic, and should show some ritual behaviour from time to time). Also for the most part, it makes the usual unexplained narrative leaps that compromise the logic and flow of the story, and has many of its characters doing things in ways that are consistently at odds with their usual behaviour.
It’s also a movie that contains a number of scenes that are so redundant or unnecessary (and sometimes both) that you begin to wonder if a Director’s Cut due to be released on Blu-ray and DVD in six months’ time has been released to cinemas instead. When King coerces Medina into helping him track down Wolff, he does it by virtue of her having lied on her Treasury application form; she helps him or he’ll see that she’s prosecuted (forget that he appears to be the only one who’s vetted her properly since she applied). As the scene plays out, the viewer can only sit back and ask themselves, couldn’t he have just asked for her help, or used his seniority to get her working on the case? Wouldn’t that have been simpler? Of course it would, but the scene is there nevertheless, and the way it pans out it just doesn’t work.
Elsewhere, Wolff and Dana hit it off way too quickly, not only because her life is in danger and he’s yet another assassin who’s too good deep down to “walk away”, but because it’s an attempt to remind us that Wolff can connect when he tries, and the script seems to be saying, look, give the guy a break, he’s never had a girlfriend before. It’s the wrong kind of break, though, because Wolff gets close to Anna Kendrick in full on perky, quirky mode, the actress using all her standard comic traits and reactions in a role that is yet another too easy variation on the role she usually plays almost everywhere else. In their scenes together, Affleck doesn’t even have to try too hard: he’s inhabiting the role, she’s channelling the ghost of every eager-to-please young actress from the Sixties.
And then there’s the moment, around two thirds in, where the movie decides to grind to a halt and spend around ten minutes detailing a back story involving King that nearly kills the movie’s momentum. And then there’s the final showdown between Wolff and the Assassin, which veers off into left field territory – unless you’ve been paying attention – and ends on an emotional note you won’t have seen coming. All of which adds up to a movie which is, appropriately or not, somewhat schizophrenic in places, or perhaps put more plainly, deliberately uneven.
In the end, The Accountant is yet another example of action movie making that only takes risks with its central character, and only when it doesn’t get in the way of his being an extremely talented assassin. The scenes where we witness Wolff grow from easily agitated pre-teen to kick-ass teenager thanks to his tough-as-nails father are weirdly compelling (when they shouldn’t be), and the action sequences are imaginative and well choreographed for the most part, even if they also lack the necessary “wow” factor that should have viewers hoping for more. By the end it’s clear that the producers are hoping that further on down the line there’ll be more adventures for Christian Wolff as he goes about writing other wrongs with his pocket protector and his high-calibre arsenal.
Rating: 7/10 – worth seeing for another committed performance from Affleck that elevates the otherwise pedestrian nature of the material on offer, The Accountant does its best to be more than a standard Hollywood action thriller, but can’t quite pull it off; with O’Connor handling things well from behind the camera, but without injecting too much pizzazz into proceedings, the movie ends up being exactly the kind of Saturday night choice that goes perfectly with pizza and beer.