Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, JK Simmons, Jon Bernthal and Cynthia Addai-Robinson
Written by: Bill Dubuque
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Rated ‘R’ for violence, language and math
Runtime 128 minutes
Having just donned the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight, I imagine Ben Affleck looked to his friend and fellow Bostonian, Matt Damon, and wanted a little bit of that more adult, thriller oriented action hero. Damon recently reprised his most famous role, Jason Bourne in the (quite terrible) fourth entry into the franchise. Affleck, on the other hand, is looking to just get started. Whether The Accountant is destined to become a new franchise depends largely on how well it does; it certainly plants the seeds of future installments. However, the film at hand does a lot of things quite well that make you want to see more of this character. Alas, it bumbles so much of itself that you are glad when its finally over.
The premise of The Accountant is quite solid in that ‘superhero’ origin way. Christian Wolff (Affleck, and an alias) is a high-functioning autistic person who is quite good at math. He is regimented, he is precise and socially awkward. A savant, in many ways. He also, it turns out, is a one-man killing machine due to the training his father – a psy-ops officer – raised him. Where most of us were going to summer camp to learn about leaves, Christian was in India learning Silat, or in France taking on a group of punk teenagers. He uses his math and military skills to cook the books of the world’s worst people: terrorists, drug cartels, mobsters. Like Clark Kent, he’s a mild-mannered CPA by day, morally reprehensible CPA by night. Exactly like Superman, really.
For the first half of the film, you’re on-board with what is happening. The director, Gavin O’Connor, is teasing out details about who Christian is, inserting a few flashbacks here and there to flesh out the world. It’s played close to the vest, something I appreciate more and more in films. There’s the subplot of JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Treasury agents, who are searching for this mythical ‘The Accountant’ character. meanwhile, Christian is hired by a robotics company and its CEO (John Lithgow) to go over the books. There was a discrepancy that Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) found and they want another look at it.
It is about there that The Accountant starts to go off the rails, plotwise. Affleck and Kendrick have great chemistry together, and Affleck himself must be commended for his acting. Yes, he’s a fairly stoic guy to begin with, and he uses that to his advantage. There are moments, surrounded by numbers and equations, that he lights up and becomes charming, talented Affleck. It is a nice and subtle, all too brief shift. For an adult, dark action thriller, there are plenty of laughs to be found in the awkward interactions between Affleck and the supporting cast.
That’s the first half. Solid and suspenseful. Then the film decides that it really wants to tell you everything and just goes ahead and literally tells you everything. A bit past halfway through, JK Simmons’ – whose character is about to retire – lays out the plot and history of the film with a ten minute expository speech. I love exposition as much as the next guy, but it is so painfully obvious that writer Bill Dubuque had no better way to craft a story. Whatever film Simons and Robinson are in, it has almost no bearing on the one actually being presented on screen. The film draws to a crawl, and even does a flashback to a flashback, rewinding further and further along the timeline. Almost immediately afterwards, there is a big reveal that observant audience members could see coming a mile away. It’s interesting but without the emotional work put into it to make it truly interesting. It was as if the creators saw that things were getting long in the tooth and decided, ‘Eh, we can make it like this!’
All faith in the audience is abandoned and any intelligence or moral questions the film may have had are shoved aside for a darkened and thrilling shoot-out.
The shooting and action is above average, even if Gavin Hood hides a lot of his work around quick cuts and darkness. At one point, Christian shoots through a house’s walls and kills a badguy with what I assume is some sort of anti-aircraft bullet. The action is not on the level of Jack Reacher, but action junkies will get its fill.
The Accountant doesn’t know what it wants to be, except possibly a franchise like Bourne. The action is fine, the acting great. The story, however, fails everyone. There is a painfully obvious ‘twist’ involving one of the characters that even I figured it out. I never figure out anything. This surprise robs the moment because it is one that, while on paper sounds nice, makes no sense because it is meant to be a reconnecting with a character who was never established in the first place. The movie starts off strong but, like a freshmen trying out AP Math, quickly gets in over its head.