The Accountant's Autistic Anti-Hero Balances a Smart Thriller
- Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 13 Oct
Offering a character that at times comes off as a superhero without the costume, The Accountant blends seemingly discordant elements into a well-polished (if violent and occasionally profane) entertainment for adults, the cinematic equivalent of a good beach read page-turner. 3.5 out of 5.
The Accountant is that very rare thriller that mixes underworld espionage, special needs challenges, and tax advice. A legit tax consultant by day and financial launderer/assassin for criminal clients by night, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) isn't all that he seems. With an acute but manageable case of autism, Wolff is a loner, expertly precise in all that he does but lacking any close personal relationships due to his inability to express and connect emotionally. As Wolff works at "uncooking" the books for a major robotics firm that's publicly altruistic but secretively shady, a Treasury Dept. investigator (J.K. Simmons) and his new protégé (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are hot on his trail. They don't know him by name, only his multiple aliases: the mysterious man who aids mobsters, arms dealers, and others with their illegal activities. Meanwhile, one of the robotics firm's young accountants (Anna Kendrick) begins to help Wolff crack complex data and, along the way, his guarded emotional exterior as well. When another assassin (John Bernthal) begins to knock off execs at the robotics firm, the various separate endeavors are set on an inevitable collision course, in which surprising facts (and motives) are ultimately revealed.
Taught and intense, this is a subtle yet very intriguing mix of genres. With Wolff’s specific set of lethal and financial skills, he crunches bones as effectively as he does numbers, sort of a Jason Bourne with “a beautiful mind” (and a killer aim). Or, The Accountant could be dubbed Good Wolff Hunting, to paraphrase the title of Affleck's Oscar-winning screenplay. The Wolff character himself is a fascinating mystery, playing like an autistic anti-superhero, doing bad things for bad people but possibly for good reasons, and coming to the rescue of innocents who get mixed up in the crossfire. The autism element is also deftly handled, no doubt in large part because director Gavin O’Connor is the parent of an autistic child. Wolff's killer tendencies are not portrayed as a natural byproduct of his aloof autism. This distinction is made through Wolff's childhood, told in flashback, which also plays like a comic book origin story. We see that who he's become is the direct result of how he was raised, not how he is wired. In addition, for as serious as much of the movie is, Kendrick provides an adorable (yet still smart) levity that never feels out of place in this otherwise brooding atmosphere.
Heavy on plot yet light on thematic subtext, The Accountant gets a little too complex for its own good while not being as substantial as it could've been. It's not always easy to track but never really confusing either as it tries to do more than it needs to. The narrative could've been streamlined, especially in regard to the Treasury Agents' procedural subplot; it's rather rudimentary, as these things go. With so much going on, the romantic sparks between Affleck's Wolff and Kendrick's Dana Cummings feel forced. For his own efforts, Affleck's performance is competent and essentially effective if never entirely believable. His limited range strains to authenticate the autistic personality and paradigm, but at least he keeps those limits underplayed rather than resorting to excessive actorly ticks or meltdowns.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
This is a story where the bad guys are bad and the hero exists in the grays, but Wolff's actions and motives do carry a nobility to them, even if they're more vigilante than Christian. The Treasury Agent protégé has a nice redemptive arc.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and strong language throughout
- Language/Profanity: Strong language is common (but not pervasive). F-words and S-words are heard throughout, a few milder profanities on occasion, and one instance of the Lord's name taken in vain.
- Sexuality/Nudity: None. Hints of a romance at most.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Violence fairly pervasive, occasionally blunt and shocking, bloody, but only briefly gruesome. Recurring gun violence includes multiple point-blank killings, some as direct shots to the head. High body count overall. Some stabbings, stranglings, neck snaps. Several intense, violent fights. Brief moments of torture, including the shooting of a nail into a hand. Innocent people are threatened and terrorized at gunpoint. Some violence involves children.
Drugs/Alcohol: Some occasional casual drinking. The only drugs are medicinal/prescription.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Adult audiences looking for smart, thrilling entertainment that engages the mind without exhausting the emotions.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Though free of sexual content, the level of violence and language would prohibit children, as well as adults sensitive to such content.
The Accountant, directed by Gavin O’Connor, opens in theaters October 14, 2016; available for home viewing January 10, 2017. It runs 128 minutes and stars Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, John Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow. Watch the trailer for The Accountant here.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at hustonmovieblog.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."
Publication date: October 13, 2016