The Accountant Review:
Christian Wolff (Affleck) is a high functioning autistic whose mental development has given him an uncommon ability with numbers, and when he’s not using it to help poor farmers keep their land, he’s helping international criminals hide their ill-gotten gains. As set ups for high concept action thriller’s go, it’s less ridiculous than many, and in director Gavin O’Connor’s (Warrior) hands, it’s often a sturdy vehicle for well-designed action set pieces and effective character humor.
But it’s a high wire act over a pit full of broken bottles which O’Connor has been asked to manage and ultimately it’s too much for him. As much good will as The Accountant builds up in its first half, it sheds in the second as it luxuriates in some of the worst choices of high-concept filmmaking. Mistaking exposition for storytelling and eventually becoming more obsessed with figuring every puzzle out than its compulsive central character, The Accountant eventually can’t mask the silliness at its heart.
The ultimate trick of any film like this is to thread the delicate balance of taking its topic just serious enough to enable suspension of disbelief, but not so serious as to leech all fun from it. This is much easier said than done: compare for example any DC super hero film to any Marvel super hero film.
And it’s a problem which gets exacerbated rather than solved by a lot of inexplicable choices studios tend to make in action films, particularly the desire to over explain everything at the expense of mystery and pace. But first things first: The Accountant’s star is most certainly the best thing about it. Affleck turns out to be very good at playing a man unsure of what emotions mean or how to display them correctly, and that is only twenty-five percent sarcasm.
That is in part because he has the only fully-realized character with everyone – from terrified accountant Dana (Kendrick) to pathological hitman Braxton (Bernthal) – existing only to reflect on him. This leaves a lot of the actors playing to type – Kendrick is an expert at this point at being the upbeat and precocious office go getter while Simmons exposits gruffly and Bernthal turns up his violent loner charm.
On the one hand, it sheds a lot of light into why Wolff is the way he is. On the other it causes a great deal of confusion among the filmmakers about which story they’re telling – how Christian came to be or how he is going to stop the corporate espionage he has stumbled on and save Dana’s life. One of those ideas is the plot for an action movie and one is the back story of that plot, but O’Connor and his writers can’t seem to tell the difference which is which until eventually the film devolves into an extended flashback which has very little to do with anything going on in the present day.
And it leads to a sentence which doesn’t get written very often: J.K. Simmons is the worst part of this movie.
Not so much Simmons himself, he was an experienced character actor even before he won his Oscar and he knows exactly what a role like Treasury Agent Ray King requires. It’s more what he, and his understudy Agent Medina (Addai), represent – a lack of understanding about what makes up a story.
A legendary Treasury agent with a host of arrests under his belt, King is supported by regular phone calls from a mysterious voice somehow tied to Christian Wolff which keep leading him to big arrests and before he retires, he wants to know how and why. This is a clumsy but effective mechanism for explaining Christian’s history, but it metastasizes like a cancer, gradually taking over more and more of The Accountant’s running time until the second act devolves into an extended flashback.
It’s hard to tell if this is because no one really knew how to develop the present day adventures once Christian rescues Dana from her would be assassins as that story jumps directly to the end, or if they’re just more fascinated by his past, but these are two very different threads which constantly butt heads with one another.
And in its copious flashbacks (the second half is almost entirely one, or some other form of historical exposition,) it uncovers a more nihilistic side. The brutal upbringing visited on Christian by his father is shown as some sort of insight about what he really needed – firm discipline and daily doses of violence – to fit him into the world.
Much of that is because it is autism by way of Hollywood fetish – it provides a wide variety of visual tics which appeal to director’s visual sensibilities, particularly his orderliness and the way it allows the filmmakers to display a pretty picture and seem to say something about the character. It’s one of many action film beats which have been used for and which The Accountant plays to rather than against as it aspires to which ultimately undoes it. Affleck himself really is the best thing about The Accountant and if he’s not enough to save it, he is enough to make it watchable.
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