Film Review: The Accountant (2016)

Ben Affleck Anna Kendrick The Accountant

Ben Affleck stars as a beefcake, autistic accountant who specializes in closing the books and shooting people dead in the face… because… Hollywood, that’s why. 

The Accountant Movie PosterShould I see it?
Yes, if you have patience and low expectations.

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writer: Bill Dubuque

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jon Bernthal and John Lithgow

Rated R for violence and language

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an autistic accountant who serves the international criminal class.  While working a freelance forensic accounting gig, he uncovers massive financial hijinks.  This, of course, leads to accusations, chases and people shooting other people in the face.  No worry, Christian isn’t just an autistic accountant, he is also an expertly trained assassin/sniper.

You read that last sentence correctly.

If that seems stupid to you, this is because it is indeed stupid, deeply stupid.  Director Gavin O’Connor manages to slide this silliness past the audience by framing the autism much in the same way Ron Howard sold paranoid schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind.  The disability is presented very intently as an ultimate good for the hero that propels him to great things.  Unlike A Beautiful Mind, the negative impacts of the disability never come to haunt Christian.  Yes, he is isolated and needs order, but there is no consequence when these tenets of his life are violated numerous times.

Ben Affleck The AccountantGiven this is a movie, selling the idea of an autistic becoming a world-class accountant isn’t a tall order.  Trained killer?  That takes some doing. Christian and his brother are raised in ancient Spartan conditions by their psychotic father.   Christian’s father refuses to allow Christian to give into his disability, believing that it will make him weak.  Instead, he forces his son to be confronted with the constant stimuli that normally would increase his autism.  This all reeks of an origin story for a superhero rather than a humble accountant.  By the time the final acts rolls around, it is clear that indeed you may as well be watching a superhero film.

Ultimately, there is little difference between this film and Affleck’s first superhero film Daredevil, about a blind lawyer/superhero/trained assassin.  Both heroes overcome and control their disabilities while sporting inhuman fighting abilities and battling daddy issues.  The largest difference is that The Accountant wants you to take it seriously.  Unfortunately, by the time Christian single-handedly takes out nearly a dozen, presumably former special forces, bodyguards, seriousness has flown the coop.

While this is a watchable film and many audiences will be interested while it is in front of them, I believe very few will walk away satisfied, let alone remembering the film a week later.  There are moments that are quite well done.  This mostly involves scenes of Christian dealing with his autism or performing accounting – yes, accounting scenes are interesting.  Kudos to O’Connor for off pulling that magic trick.  Much of the rest of the film is meandering.  For example, there is a subplot involving Treasury Agent Ray King’s (J.K. Simmons) forcing an underling to track Christian down which almost brings the film to a crawl.  O’Connor focuses on King as a means to broach the theme of fatherhood, tying things back to Christian’s poor upbringing.  But given the references to fatherhood land without impact and given the investigation offers no tension to the story, we are left with a muddled distraction in the heart of an otherwise workable film.

As previously stated, this will likely hold your interest during the run time but will have no greater value.  This is a good film, but it is not great.  The characters are forgettable, the story is silly, but it has guns and brief moments of solid filmmaking.  Go in with low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Cautions:

There is plenty of shooting and dying.  Numerous people are ushered to their death.  If you’ve seen John Wick, you will recognize where O’Connor found his inspiration for his gun battles.  If you haven’t seen it, expect high choreographed, seemingly realistic scenes of people being quickly gunned down by taking a bullet to the head.

The Accountant Shooting

Worldview:

***Warning – Spoilers***

I’ll be honest, after watching this I remained confused as to what O’Connor and crew were trying to get at.  There is an obvious thread about fatherhood running through the story.  Christian’s dad is a heartless military man who trains his sons to be fighters with brutal callousness.  After starting a fight at his ex-wife’s funeral, Christian’s dad is killed and Christian goes to prison.  There Christian adopts another father figure who trains him to become a criminal accountant.  After that guy is tortured to death, Christian exacts revenge on the men who killed his new daddy.  While murdering a building full of mobsters, Christian comes across Ray King who hopes to put an end to the murder spree.  Christian gets the drop on King, and in an attempt to talk his way out of a bullet to the brain pan, King announces he has children.  He then admits that he is a bad man, but he was a good father.  Christian takes this admission as a reason to spare King’s life.  In fact, this inspires Christian to start to feed tips to King about the criminal underworld.  At the end of the film, it is revealed that the hired thug standing in Christian’s way is his estranged brother.  The pair stop shooting at each other long enough to have a bonding session in the middle of a domestic warzone.  That’s an awful lot of father stuff.  The end result?  Not much.  Christian is nice to the young accountant he fancies, but there isn’t any huge payoff. It is all just thematic wallpaper which eventually gets covered with the brain splatters from the running gun fight for the last fourth of the film.

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