The Accountant

(2016) * R
128 min. Warner Bros. Director: Gavin O'Connor. Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow.

/content/films/4986/1.jpgNothing says action-thriller like accounting. Of course, that’s half of the gag of The Accountant, in which a seriously button-down number-cruncher—complete with pocket protector—mass-murders bad guys when handling “black money” for shady customers.


The other half of the gag is that the accountant has “a high functioning form of autism.” Screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge) rations out the personal history of Christian Wolff (Seth Lee) as the troubled child of a tough-loving Army Psych Ops officer dad (Robert C. Treveiler) and a straying mom (Mary Kraft). In the present day, Christian is a beefy Ben Affleck, keeping up appearances as a mild-mannered strip-mall accountant when not cooking books for big-time criminal players or knocking them off when “someone breaks his moral code.” Any of this sound appealing so far?


So the US Treasury is on to Wolff, with Director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) taking a personal interest. King blackmails talented analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into cracking the case (mostly, it seems, by Googling his aliases and gawking at the results). Meanwhile, Wolff nabs a gig as a forensic accountant for Living Robotics, where CEO Lamar Black (John Lithgow) has recently discovered millions embezzled; there, Wolff takes a shine to awkward-perky accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick). Plus there’s another mystery man (Jon Bernthal) going around confronting fiscal crooks and on a collision course with Wolff.


So The Accountant doesn’t lack for plot over the course of its 128 minutes. But director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) doesn’t seem to know how to make this material compelling, and who can blame him? Sometimes The Accountant plays like Batman Begins, with young Christian suffering personal trauma and punishingly learning martial arts. At other times, Affleck seems to be auditioning for his old buddy Matt Damon’s Bourne franchise (by way of their Good Will Hunting) with his brutally efficient takedowns by hand-to-hand combat or sniper artillery (when not covering walls with equations).


Strangest of all, much of the time The Accountant is just plain goofy, inviting laughs that sometimes backfire to be at, rather than with, the film. Kendrick has obviously been asked to give a more or less romantic-comic performance that’s at odds with the rest of the story, and Affleck doesn’t have the chops to overcome the script’s clichés and make his preposterous character credible (to be fair, I’m not sure anyone does). In playing autistic, Affleck is mostly limited to degrees of deadpan, which get played for menace and/or yuks.


The Accountant's biggest sin is simply not being interesting. O’Connor overestimates the intrigue of the “puzzle” plot, which has only predictable twists in store. The independence and goal-oriented success of the autistic anti-hero is meant to be inspiring, but winds up creepy. And so the running-gag emotional expression of another of the film’s autistic characters pretty much sums it up: “Heavy sigh.”

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