Editor’s Notes: The Accountant opens in wide theatrical release today, October 10th.
It’s not the Fortress of Solitude. It’s not the Bat Cave. It’s a mid-century Airstream trailer, renovated to include a sizable weapons cache, gold bullion, neatly packaged stacks of cash, and near-priceless paintings. But for Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a CPA who operates a modest, out-of-the-way accounting practice outside of Chicago in director Gavin O’Conner (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior, Pride and Glory, Miracle) and screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Headhunter’s Calling, The Judge) The Accountant, the Airstream trailer functions as a safe place, a personal sanctuary for Wolff, an international man of mystery (minus the license to kill), a trained assassin who specializes in forensic accounting for terrorist organizations, mobsters, and arms dealers (among others). He’s also quite possibly the first hero anti-hero who also happens to be autistic – or to be precise, O’Conner and Dubuque’s loose, disconnected-from-the-real-world interpretation of autism.
For all intents and purposes, however, The Accountant unfolds like a semi-standard superhero story.
For all intents and purposes, however, The Accountant unfolds like a semi-standard superhero story. Wolff’s powers of intelligence, perception, and physicality place him well above the average individual in or out of films. As O’Conner and Dubuque dutifully dole out bits and pieces of Wolff’s backstory – a military father who trains Christian and his brother in martial arts, a prison stint that convinces him to turn his math skills into an exploitable, lucrative commodity, a “moral code” (no anti-hero leaves home without one), and a seemingly above-board forensic check up of a robotics company’s book that forces Wolff to temporarily abandon his “man against the world” outlook and consider the feelings and emotions of another human being, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an analyst at the robotics company who discovers a glitch in the financial matrix, the bodies begin to fall, often at the end of Wolff’s Jason Bourne-like killing skills.
A parallel subplot involves Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), a near retirement U.S. Treasury official, and his obsession with tracking down Wolff’s real identity. To that end, King blackmails a junior analyst, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), with information about her pre-Treasury past. King may be borderline unethical (minus the border) in his dealings with Medina, but it’s all apparently to a good end, finding Wolff before he disappears again and changes identities. As Wolff shifts from mercenary accountant – two words that just two months ago, seemed utterly ludicrous – into protector/savior, at one point saving her from a squad of assassins with extreme prejudice – The Accountant veers wildly into absurdity and never returns. Another subplot involving another assassin (he’s no math wiz), Braxton (Jon Bernthal), ends just as ludicrously, with a heart-to-heart that ultimately plays out like unintentional comedy.
O’Conner and Dubuque aren’t content, however, to throw in just one or two revelations about Wolff’s past, King’s not-so-hidden agenda, or the true (corporate) villain behind the embezzlement and its bloody cover-up. They throw in one twist or turn after another, each one more contrived than the last. To their slight credit, O’Conner and Dubuque keep the nonsense moving at a fairly energetic clip, but that works only temporarily. Think too much about the plot and subplots and the whole storytelling edifice crumbles under the weight of too many contrivances. Eventually, the suspicion that Dubuque pitched The Accountant as “The Bourne Identity meets Rain Man” to the Powers-That-Be at Warner Bros. will start to seem less like a suspicion and more likely the truth.
He’s also quite possibly the first hero anti-hero who also happens to be autistic – or to be precise, O’Conner and Dubuque’s loose, disconnected-from-the-real-world interpretation of autism.
While The Accountant ultimately fails to cohere into anything resembling a conventional narrative, individual scenes manage to stand out from the background noise. Dana’s repeated attempts to connect with Wolff may seem awkward and clumsy, but they’re also honest and sincere. A tentative, delicate relationship emerges, but O’Conner and Dubuque smartly play it for emotional truth rather than as another narrative prop for the next big action set piece. It’s telling, not to mention fitting, that Dana’s physical safety isn’t an issue in the closing moments, only whether the fragile, tenuous emotional connection Dana and Wolff made in the earlier scenes will last beyond the bloody, bodies-hitting-the-floor finale. It’s also in that climax that Wolff turns into the human equivalent of the Terminator, suffering only a minor flesh wound as turns into an unmasked vigilante (no cape and cowl for Wolff).
Affleck plays Wolff with a minimum of affectations. He’s affect-free, expressionless, a man obsessed with routines and routine behavior (the better to cope with the never-ending barrage of sensory stimuli). Affleck’s Wolff doesn’t speak often, but when he speaks it’s in a flat, emotionless monotone. His attempts at eye contact, connection, or communication feel forced, almost robotic, even when he’s suffering extreme levels of physical stress. It never feels, however, like anything except an outside-in, surface-deep performance, a performance that feints toward revealing Wolff’s turbulent inner life only to abandon moments later as the needs of the plot take precedence over character. That’s as much a function of Dubuque’s remix-heavy screenplay and O’Conner’s barely serviceable direction. Almost everyone else in the cast is just as badly underserved by the Dubuque-O’Conner combo, though, suggesting that the plot-over-character issues that permeate The Accountant doomed it long before the actors arrived on set for their first scenes together.
While The Accountant ultimately fails to cohere into anything resembling a conventional narrative, individual scenes manage to stand out from the background noise.