Review: The Accountant

A drama/action movie thriller about an autistic accountant with military skills? The Accountant is something different, and while the actors aren’t perhaps as good as they’re all capable of being, the quirkiness of the movie ends up making it work as entertainment.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant who lives with autism, and whose clients include some of the world’s shadiest characters, while flashbacks show us how his father taught him to channel his autism into aggression. He’s employed by a tech company owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) to audit its finances – alongside the company’s employee, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) – and discovers some issues. At the same time, the US Treasury, led by Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) and young agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are hot on Wolff’s tail, while mysterious mercenary Braxton (John Bernthal) seems to be on a collision course with Wolff.

It’s probably best to start with the autism here – it’s quite interesting that the director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque decided to make their main character an autistic accountant with a military-style aptitude in violence. On reading other reviews, it appears that the depiction of autism is fairly accurate, and the subject is, at times, handled sensitively. There’s no attempt to mock Wolff’s tics and obsessive actions, nor to make fun of autistic people – but I imagine this might build up the perception in the average filmgoer’s mind that all autistic people have the aptitude to become savants or experts, which undercuts the severity of the condition and its impact.

the_accountant_2016_filmThe directions in which the plot goes, quite honestly, befuddled me – I suppose I wasn’t expecting a lot of what ended up happening. It metamorphoses between crime thriller, financial drama, character piece and action-adventure, giving it an uncertain air that at times seems odd, but also sometimes befits the odd choice of story. Wolff’s shady work is barely addressed despite the explicit moral issues, and this was a plot point I expected to be a bigger part of the film, but instead it’s ignored almost immediately.

The actors are all underserving themselves, though Ben Affleck fortunately is pretty good, dialling down all emotion and giving Wolff a steely, distracted determination and shaky uneasiness when the situation changes, as he starts to crack when his routines are disturbed. Much of his performance is also ably supported by small flashbacks into Wolff’s father’s manipulation, channelling emotions into actions. Anna Kendrick is strange casting (not least for looking more like she could be Affleck’s daughter, making for a unintentionally creepy scene halfway through), but I liked that she brought an element of humour to the film (which is, surprisingly, quite funny at times), and she also brings the humanity out of Wolff, slowly breaking through to the man underneath.

Of the remainder, John Lithgow gets his teeth into a conflicted and interesting character rather underserved by a late twist in the movie, while J.K. Simmons plays a very low-key “old man in authority role” with a few quirks, almost a shock after his tornado of a performance in Whiplash. Bernthal’s Braxton is one of the plot’s main mysteries, and it’s interesting to see how the film develops this.He’s playing against type as well, as a quippy, easy-going guy with a ruthless streak as opposed to Bernthal’s usual brooding, grimdark characters.

Addai-Robinson’s performance as the stereotypical ‘rookie’ is a bit less nuanced, as while I liked that the actress had something more to work with than the usual “must impress the boss” shtick, she doesn’t feature much and her story doesn’t really go anywhere, odd considering how it begins. Worst of all however is the mishandling of the great Jeffrey Tambor, who is essentially a flashback mentor to Wolff, and whose dramatic and comedic abilities are nowhere to be seen in a role that could have been filmed in about an hour or cut entirely.

The film follows the pattern of many lately by filming everything through a greyish sheen, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey making the environments and locations look metallic and gritty. It works at times but means it doesn’t visually distinguish itself, and appears a bit staid. Perhaps due to my proximity to the screen (we booked it late), the action is a little too frenetic, a bit shakier than it should be. Fortunately the sound design, and soundtrack by Mark Isham, are at turns understated and booming when needs be.

The Accountant makes for a strange but memorable experience, with a host of very good actors giving rather understated performances around a fairly good Ben Affleck. There are a lot of areas where it could have been seriously improved, but in its own warped way it’s unique, what with the protagonist’s autism (before everything starts to become a bit more formulaic towards the end), and it’s different enough to be interesting.


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