No, The Accountant doesn’t take place inside a Tropic Thunder universe where character combinations are satirically smashed together for dramatic pause. Gavin O’Connor’s white-collar thriller is super duper serious about Ben Affleck playing an assassin with lower-grade autism, down to its tiniest nuance. That, in itself, poses a brilliant message of strength for those battling similar conditions of difference – if only Bill Dubuque’s screenplay could sustain such a theme without treating mental “disabilities” like unlocking a superpower (seriously, the film is bizarrely X-Men-esque). There’s such a strange ignorance at play that causes Affleck’s autistic state to feel hollow and blank, almost where more serious sufferers are slighted by therapeutic choices and unintentional weightlessness.
Honestly, what is this movie?
We pick up with Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) “the accountant” as he’s hired to audit a life-changing robotics company after one of their clerks (Dana Cummings played by Anna Kendrick) notices millions of dollars have vanished from the books. Christian is able to pinpoint the differential overnight, but just as he’s about to crack the equation, CEO Lamar Black (John Lithgow) terminates his contract. It’s not long after that a hit is put on both Christian and Dana, unbeknownst that one of the targets is a Jason Bourne clone. Suffice it to say, Christian “the hitman” is pissed – and there’s no stopping him until the job is done.
Let me start by saying that at two-plus hours, The Accountant is exhausting in its laborious need to elongate Christian’s mission. What could have been an 80-minute movie instead jumps around between Christian’s hitman life, entirely too much of his accountant guise, another hitman’s practice (Brax, played by Jon Bernthal) and flashbacks to Christian’s abusive youth – half the movie is filler fluff, building a character who translates poorly to screen.
Characters enter and exit with little significance, exemplified by a meandering J.K. Simmons as Treasury higher-up Ray King (who always has a story) or Jeffrey Tambor as an inmate who Christian befriends (what’s his significance again?). Dubuque’s biggest problem is constantly trying to one-up previous reveals, causing this ongoing circle of continuous storytelling that gets nowhere and locks in a boring, predicable thriller cycle.
Affleck himself has the largest task as Christian Wolf, who can control his condition through routine and focus. From an early age, Christian was forced into bloody-knuckled physical combat with his brother (no shock who he turns out to be). Coddling would only weaken the boys. His father – an on-the-move military man – didn’t believe in therapies or alternative programs for Christian. He wanted to prepare his son for the world that would judge, mock and condemn him, which leads to flashbacks to being beating senseless by a jacked Indonesian kung-fu master (what is happening, really?). This is how O’Connor and Dubuque justify Christian’s ability to lead a “normal” life, by building a supersoldier whose mental gift is unlocked by an old-school hardass who’d be chastised by PC mobs of today.
I explain the setup (aside from insanity) because this leads to an absolute deadpan hero whose calculated and blank face makes for a lead character devoid of emotion. A scene here or there hits upon the sweet sincerity of Christian’s care for Dana, and some wicked action sequences finally hit stride after about an hour and forty five minutes, but for the most part, Christian is dry as a cat’s tongue.
Affleck isn’t allowed to flash his Boston sass or personable charms. Christian’s ticks are under control, his bluntness only entertains in brief spurts and action sequences are over before they start (a stress on Christian’s efficiency). The most emotive Affleck we get smiles after solving a math equation (CUE AN ACTUAL ACCOUNTING MONTAGE). Christian the “accountant” gets way more screen time than Christian the badass, which will surely have viewers glancing at their watch repeatedly.
On the positive side, Anna Kendrick is her bubbly, infections self (frumpy wardrobe, because homely!), and O’Conner stealthily unleashes some pretty vicious combat sequences. Jon Bernthal, meanwhile, spreads his swag around as a flamboyant counter hitman who wears fancy headphones and talks the talk, so at least we get a little character. Affleck isn’t all stone, either – Christian’s awkward verbal assessments say the obvious with innocent, sometimes enjoyable frankness. There are things to like here, along with a very old-school action vibe that emphasizes wacky storytelling just as much as punctuated outbursts of violence. The Accountant tries something different, and for that we can’t help but want to enjoy things a bit more than we do – WANT being the key word.
In practice, The Accountant is sluggish action thriller that frequently forgets about the aggression promised. Bill Dubuque’s script rambles on and on like a party guest so caught up in their own story, they forget what the point even was. As someone who has no direct personal connection to autism in his daily life, I walked out of the theater having no deeper grasp reflecting on the film’s base-value representation.
Kudos to Gavin O’Connor for the strong, tense scenes of tactical housecleaning (those bodies pile up quick), but far too many heaped-on plot extensions drain momentum until it’s a distant memory. How a gamble like this was executed in today’s studio market is certainly applause-worthy, but unfortunately, good intentions can only get you so far – or, in this case, too far.
The Accountant is so many baffling things, most (but not all) of which can not be described in a positive manner.