'The Accountant' Review

Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures
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10+ years ago at the nadir of Ben Affleck's career, the premise of him playing a neurotypical, possibly autistic accountant who has near super heroic action skills would have seemed like his most laughable career move yet. Even now, when Affleck is an Oscar winner and also Batman, the setup of The Accountant seems utterly crazy and potential campy. In a way, it is indeed that ridiculous when it all adds up or doesn't, but the attempt to do the math does yield its share of rewarding and refreshing equations.

A man known as Christian Wolff has the appearance of an ordinary small time Illinois accountant, if not wired a bit differently. To a more shadowy world, he is the primary man to enlist in order to uncook books and find missing money for the most dangerous people alive, and he somehow also has the lethal skills to survive them. But he takes what looks to be a less risky job in tracking down missing money for a personal robotics company, with the help of the female employee who first found the discrepancy. When their findings put her in jeopardy, however, Christian breaks his usual routine and uses his other special set of skills besides math to keep her safe.

This doesn't even get into the U.S. Treasury director and the agent he enlists to find the accountant's true identity, the flashbacks to Christian’s rough childhood with his condition and his army man father, a Suri-like phone voice that seems to give a grown up Christian his routine, and about five other puzzle pieces. Since a recurring question from the phone is "Do you like puzzles?" it is quite obvious what kind of movie The Accountant is supposed to be.

The long puzzle works at a paradoxical pace, as it moves slowly while still piling up subplots every several minutes, is an action movie that waits about halfway through for Christian to do most of his fighting, and is a mystery where half the answers come out of nowhere and half can be guessed rather early. Even with the more unpredictable twists, they walk a fine line between working and being utterly ludicrous when the viewer really thinks about it, much like The Accountant as a whole.

Nonetheless, the movie does its job of earning its audience's investment, whether through the moments that really land or the crazier flights of fancy. At the least, this really is an atypical kind of film, if not quite in the same way as Christian. But in a time of generic action movies, remakes and reboots, The Accountant is one of a kind in both rewarding and maddening ways, where the more maddening ones are somewhat part of the fun too.

Director Gavin O'Connor and writer Bill Dubuque certainly have help in having the right cast to sell all this. Chief among them is Affleck, in yet another role one couldn't have taken him seriously in several years ago. While a character like Christian is certainly easy to overplay, and not just when it comes to the action, Affleck underplays him if anything. Maybe that backfires in making him blander than he should be, but doing it this way hardly makes him a broad Sheldon Cooper like caricature.

This reviewer can hardly speak on whether Affleck captures the exact mood, routine and behavior of an atypical man, although the fact he is also a gun and martial arts savant suggests some liberties have been taken or heightened. Nonetheless, when the movie gets nuttier and walks a fine line between drama and camp, Affleck still manages to ground it, all while his fight moves leave himself open for obvious Batman comparisons and jokes. Of course, Affleck has been the butt of much harsher ones before.

There is still some unintentional comedy around him, such as the obligatory montage scene of him doing math with the obligatory Beautiful Mind style voiceover muttering. And when Christian talks about taking a less dangerous job, having John Lithgow as the robotics CEO he watches videos of at the same time instantly signals the dramatic irony to come. However, the movie still poorly pretends it isn't obvious for a few more scenes with Lithgow before dropping the facade.

Casting Anna Kendrick as his new acquaintance Dana also runs a bit of risk, since a thriller is hardly Kendrick's usual genre. What's more, the trailers painted her as an overly naive woman in distress, which seems like a waste of Kendrick's strengths. While that's still kind of what Dana can be boiled down to, some of the more fun moments of the film involve Dana and Christian's unlikely connection, with Kendrick as a kind of even more awkward straight man. It certainly helps to have Kendrick in a scene like the one where Dana shares her own past failed attempt at trying to feel connected, through a story about trying to get money for a prom dress.

Given Affleck and Kendrick's 13-year age gap, it is easy to fear this being yet another older man/much younger woman love dynamic, if not one of the wider ones over the years. Still, it is far more about feeling a real connection to someone else than about romance, which is where The Accountant works best at besides its action and puzzles.

Perhaps the flashiest performance of the movie goes to Jon Bernthal as a private security hitman, although being a hot headed contrast to more stoic lead characters is something he already perfected on The Walking Dead and Daredevil. Despite the enjoyment in seeing him do it again anyway, his true identity can probably be guessed 10-15 minutes before the movie reveals it as a big surprise.

Most of the other big answers come beforehand, in a sequence that really halts the movie in its tracks with its exposition. Some revelations contained within are genuinely surprising, while others are harder to buy and aren't really fleshed out anyway, which also symbolizes The Accountant as a whole. And like with other similar sequences, it needs the actors to really sell it, if only in the moment. In this case, the heavy lifting is done by J.K. Simmons as the treasury director and by his subordinate Cynthia Addai-Robinson, a.k.a. the original Amanda Waller on Arrow before Viola Davis played her in Suicide Squad.

Nonetheless, sequences like this show that seeing the puzzle solved is a bit less rewarding than trying to piece it together. There are some exceptions, such as one involving a very late cameo from The Americans' Allison Wright. But by and large, there's a case to be made that the complete puzzle doesn't make sense when the pieces are forced to fit, and may make less sense after a deeper Christian-level analysis.

Yet the effort to make a movie like The Accountant, and the rewards it shows when it does work, does help it get into the black in the final audit. These days, an original action/thriller/mystery/puzzle like this is becoming a rarer quality, which makes it unique even when it doesn't completely work.

It is always interesting to watch if nothing else, as it keeps the viewer hooked to see how this could all add up, whether or not it really does. It does through the efforts of Affleck, Kendrick, Bernthal and some of the more effective uses of its structure, although some clearly work better than others.

In the bigger picture, this is still the second movie of 2016 where Affleck uplifts an action movie not always worthy of him. Fortunately, The Accountant comes much closer than Batman v Superman, although hopefully the third time in 2016 will be a more complete charm for Affleck when he writes, directs and stars in the Prohibition thriller Live By Night this holiday season.