The Accountant is a thriller out of time, an 80s premise with 90s execution. Imbued with the worst qualities of both, its charming oddities are snuffed under a need for convention and its potential as a lean thriller are snuffed under a story too baffling for the audience to get hooked. It’s blessed with a cast of people who’ve made careers out of elevating material, which thankfully keeps The Accountant moving. That plus some strong-enough action storytelling makes it all the more of a shame that The Accountant consistently stumbles over its own feet.
It’s almost appropriate how much of the film leans on puzzle motifs, given that the film itself seems to have taken that aesthetic into its plotting, which could be charitably described as labyrinthian.
There is, of course, the story of our central accountant, one Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck). That’s not his real name, just one of many cutesy, math-joke aliases he’s taken over the years. Aliases he’s taken because besides his life as a CPA, he’s also a highly-trained assassin and former black money operative, now trying to go clean. He’s also high-functioning autistic, Asperger’s if we’re being precise.
Yes, The Accountant treats autism as a superpower, and consider me no expert on how it does that. But god help me for saying it, there’s a certain good intention to what’s being done here, attempting to create a superhero for autistic teenagers. I can’t say whether or not it’s done well, but it’s an idea that underlies it that keeps the film from feeling mean-spirited or ignorant, and a vulnerability that makes his Bourne-esque badass capable of connecting with audiences in the way few new action heroes have.
Partially, that’s thanks to Ben Affleck. Affleck, at least for me, is an eminently likeable sort of actor, a stoic action hero who makes his stoicism feel deliberate rather than by his own lack of skill, which who lets the little moments of sarcasm or warmth feel organic to the character created rather than machinations. Affleck is a solid presence as Wolff, and his own physical dedication enhances the film by letting him actually play through the action sequences and avoiding too much rapid cutting, which makes his own performance feel more authentic.
The film gives him plenty to kill as well. It doesn’t start that way. Wolff is trying to go straight, which he does with an assignment to find some missing money at a Robotics firm headed up by nonspecific old tech guy Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow). Young accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) found a hole in their books and Wolff is brought in to clean it up.
Of course, that clean up leads to his hunting down by The Assassin (Jon Bernthal), a mysterious figure killing off everyone associated with the financial leak (and a few others, just to show us he’s serious). That puts Wolff and his new found friend Dana in harm’s way, as Wolff needs to finish the job and unravel who’s behind it all.
Which would be a fine enough storyline. Not the deepest thing, but a tight and interesting thriller. Director Gavin O’Connor has a grasp on what makes this storyline fun, and keeps things shiny and well-made. While not too terribly innovative in its staging, a lot of hallways and offices and empty-ish apartments, it’s efficient in its action. Little too much gunplay for my tastes, but the John Wick efficiency is appreciated and the brutality feels natural to the style
The group of actors in this segment also seems to really get it. Bernthal is having a damn good time as a cocky hitman, and Kendrick and Affleck have a real camaraderie. I’m not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kendrick as Robin in The Batman. May the Film Gods be so kind.
But then The Accountant decides to add on top of that.
You see, the whole time, there are people after our hero from the Treasury Department, because of Wolff’s black money past. Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), the Financial Crimes Director, has blackmailed young analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into hunting down Wolff. A plotline which is fine enough on paper but in practice represents all the narrative missteps that bring The Accountant down.
Not only does The Accountant literally weld this plotline on (barring a single scene, no one from the aforementioned plotline ever meets anyone in the other), but the constant cut-between brings the film down, feeling arbitrary at best and actively harmful to the film’s flow at worst. There’s no action in the sequence and the scenes are O’Connor’s dullest stagings and situations.
Thematically, it has no connection either, it’s message not necessarily contradictory, but just incongruous. An unnecessary second lesson. The whole thing it feels like something from the Hays Code, put in as a requirement that we show the authorities hunting down our anti-hero (though given the ending, that doesn’t work).
It’s also the ground zero for The Accountant’s worst tendency. While the first half is a tight and interesting action thriller, the second half gets horribly convoluted. The Financial Crimes plotline possesses one of the worst exposition dumps I’ve seen in a film in some time and a series of twists that are baffling on the whole. The surprises are either so excessively telegraphed as to be pointless (if you can’t figure out one of the film’s major character connections, you may not be conscious) or so un-telegraphed as to be the worst sort of surprise, pointless and not adding anything into the actual meaning.
A shame, because without that, the film is a reasonably solid thriller with a good intentioned (if possibly poorly done) heart to it. But just a few too many bad decisions make The Accountant a broken whoopie cushion, letting what could have been trashy entertainment out with a un-delightful puff.