For a film about assassins, revenge and forensic accounting, there are some serious miscalculations in ‘The Accountant‘, an ambitious but ultimately misdiagnosed thriller…
Loner Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has a pinpoint precision understanding of maths and accounting – one of a set of techniques and talents he has honed over the years in an attempt to survive in a world from which he often stands apart. Some would call him an ‘idiot savant’ for his amazing abilities, but if so, he’s still far more complex than he appears. Though he earns a lot of money for his services – profit he rarely keeps personally – Wolff deals with a lot of unscrupulous people and has created his own mechanisms for defending and surviving. He’s worth every penny you’ll pay – if there’s larceny, embezzlement, insider-trading or stealing he’ll uncover it down to the last dime, if he can help you save money, he’ll do it – but should you betray him then he will wreak bloody vengeance down upon you.
Ray King (J. K. Simmons), a veteran Treasury Department agent on the edge of retiring, has his own reasons for wanting to track down and find the truth about the man known only as ‘The Accountant’ and he hires ambitious Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to examine the clues from the various times he’s put his head above the parapet in the presence of druglords and kingpins.
Meanwhile Wolff’s services are required at a top-end tech-company where a low-level office-worker, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) says she’s found a financial hole in their assets. As murder, suicide and lies start to be spun, it seems ‘The Accountant’ may not be as safe as he thought…
There was a lot of buzz ahead of the release of The Accountant and its acting line-up and potential intersection of genres held the promise of a movie with some real star power and extra depth. So it’s sad to report that the final film is such a mess – to the degree that though you can see glimpses of its potential lurking at the edges, it remains dominated by obvious flaws, poor lip-service to its central concept and a confused collision of ideas that never seem to come together. There’s a deep-set irony to the fact that if The Accountant had played it more by the books and been a simplistic Hollywood revenge thriller from start to finish, it might have been a less-demanding but more fulfilling venture in the short-term. Instead it’s an elephant designed by committee and a film that predictably falls completely apart in its wildly uneven third act – shuffling off significant characters mid-plot without much explanation and adding new, more unlikely elements that smack of desperate rewrites. Which is a shame because there’s actually an ambitious film in the midst of all the mess trying to get out and do something original. It just doesn’t try hard enough, wasting a string of opportunities. There are some twists along the way, but you’ll either see them coming from a fair distance or they are so unlikely as to go beyond unpredictable and in to ‘that really doesn’t make any sense, does it?‘ (especially in the film’s coda).
Knowing several people who work in the field of mental health care and who viewed the film with me, purely for entertainment, there were certain concerns and an understandable exasperation with the finished result . While no-one, even such professionals, expects Hollywood to get every nuance and detail right in a production primarily geared for entertainment, there is a need to service the story elements as well as the larger plot. A telling scene near the start of the film sees a carer warning that it’s not useful to put ‘labels’ on conditions, particularly those on the possible autism spectrum. It’s a diagnostic loophole the film exploits mercilessly and randomly thereafter to justify a conveyor belt of logic-holes and unlikely actions. In trying to give some ‘depth’ to Wolff’s condition, all the writers actually do is arbitrarily add ticks, expressions habits and abilities in as needed, muddying the psychoanalytical waters enough so that whatever a scene or reaction calls for, Affleck’s savant/sentinel delivers. In some scenes Wolff is almost a machine in his cold dispassionate delivery, in others he’s a socially-awkward person with a wry sense of irony, a killer in one scene, a lonely child grown to adulthood in the next. A backstory of a dysfunctional family and brutal training regime also seem tonally at odds. Essentially, The Accountant is ‘Rain Man meets The Terminator‘ and it does a disservice not only to those far superior films, but will also likely set back the public’s mainstream understanding of diagnosing mental health issues regarding autism, Asperger’s, self-harm, impulse control and other disorders by several decades.
Given the limitations, Affleck is okay. He can be a good actor with better material, but he’s so stiffly pulled hither and yon throughout that it’s hard to really feel for the character or get any sense of his grounding. Kendrick, often under-rated, looks to add something to proceedings as she acts as our surrogate in understanding Wolff’s actions and history but it amounts to nothing. The likes of Jean Smart, John Lithgow, J.K. Simmons and Jeffrey Tambor also seem to promise a certain distinguished quality early on and one presumes they’ll add gravity as the story unfolds. However they are mere set-decoration and the script isn’t worthy of their paper-thin presence by the time the credits roll. Never has ‘not the sum of its parts’ been more appropriate than with The Accountant.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane got a Gun), the ‘action’ element sits at odds with many other scenes and while its well choreographed in some places, that is largely down to pragmatic cinematography, swift editing and shadowy set-lighting – and it will be a challenge for vast sways of the audience not to immediately think ‘Hey, wait, this is technically Daredevil vs The Punisher!‘ given the the nature of Wolff’s martial-arts training as a child and the casting on Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Sicario and the forthcoming Marvel/Netflix series of the comics vigilante and now a bad-henchman of choice) as a main adversary.
Its release in the US in October saw decent box-office, but even at a shade over two hours, it’s far, far too long a film – though one suspects huge chunks of supporting character stories were snipped out with blunt scissors. Even patient viewers will feel the drag and action fans especially will tire of the walk/talk nature of its first half hour and lose interest quickly. Also: it’s hard to know where the audience will lie for The Accountant with its largely monotonous (read: boring) approach to much of its running-time and the brief bouts of krav-maga-inspired violence that punctuate it. Every desk-bound pen-pusher wants to be a superhero by night, but that’s still a mighty slim demographic on which to count on.
Even then, Netflix‘s Daredevil does it better than Affleck’s Accountant.
In that respect, irony apparently still knows how to give paper-cuts.
The Accountant (15) is released in the UK on 4th November by Warner Bros.