ON IN CINEMAS
Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an accountant with a personality at the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, who specialises in uncooking the books for a range of dangerous clients that includes international terrorist organisations. U.S. Treasury executive Ray King (J.K. Simmons) is on his trail, and when he discovers that one of his own agents named Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) has concealed her criminal background from him he uses this to make a deal with her: either find him in one month, or the face jail time for lying on her job application.
For his own latest assignment Christian is contracted to look for an accounting irregularity that has been uncovered by Dana Cummings (played by Anna Kendrick), the employee of an organisation called Living Robotics which is run by Lamar Black (John Lithgow). After a single night spent going over 15 years’ worth of records he makes considerable inroads in uncovering the irregularity. The next morning however he learns that one of Lamar’s lieutenants Ed Chilton (Andy Umberger) has been murdered by the mysterious Brax (Jon Bernthal) in a manner that’s made to look like an accidental overdose of the insulin he takes for his diabetes. Lamar tells Christian he is off the case - something that upsets him since his condition makes it important he finishes every job he starts. Moreover, Brax has been instructed by his employer to clear any loose ends and wipe out both Christian and Anna. Luckily, this particular accountant has grown up learning more than a few combat skills.
Affleck, while widely acclaimed as a director, has historically taken a lot of flack as an actor. Here however he’s extremely convincing in his portrayal of a man inflicted with autism. His performance avoids any Dustin Hoffman-style showiness and goes straight for a plain-and-simple approach with an emotionlessly monotone voice, clear avoidance of eye contact and occasional habitual tics. He goes a long way to making us swallow a character that, arguably, could only exist in the movies.
The trouble is that the film surrounding him is an uneven and lumpy experience which ultimately asks us to swallow a few more unlikely twists on top of the already rather fanciful idea of an autistic accountant-cum-action-hero. The individual elements are present and correct; the performances by the entire cast are fine, there are a few moments of black humour, and the premise of mysterious financial practices underpinning modern business is particularly relevant in today’s world. The action sequences, while not very abundant, are executed with sufficient flair and momentum. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, while a little too dark at times, does manage some stylishly-framed shots.
The main problem is that it’s trying to pull in too many different directions during its longish runtime; it feels like it’s jumping between several different movies, some of which are more entertaining than others. In general the first half is better than the second. Scenes depicting Christian’s largely solitary day-to-day life are compelling, mixing telling details with a quiet intimacy that bonds the viewer to a naturally distant personality. The scenes where he attempts to control his rage when things fall out of place via a combination of heavy metal music and painful-looking exercises carry a genuine visceral charge.
The best moments however are the aforementioned action sequences, along with the quieter moments when his rapport with Dana starts to develop. Affleck and Kendrick are great onscreen together and the blossoming of their relationship is touching without director Gavin O’Connor resorting to overtly manipulative techniques; instead he relies on the background of the character with his inherent difficulties in forging interpersonal relationships to bring emotional weight to these moments.
Less interesting however are the scenes of King and Medina investigating, which seem to have wandered in from a TV series. The performances by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson are good but these bits feel like a bundle of overly convoluted exposition that never really takes on a life of its own. The flashbacks to Christian’s past likewise take up too much screen time and drag down the pacing. Unfortunately during the second half there are a lot of these latter two types of scenes, plus a few twists that tie everything up in an incredibly far-fetched manner.
Damn you, The Accountant! There is a great movie in you that occasionally shines through. As it is you are frustrating, peculiar beast that’s worth seeing for the good stuff, but worth cursing for the bad.
Runtime: 128 mins
Dir: Gavin O’Connor
Script: Bill Dubuque
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger