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The autistic genius or people of the like have been the subject of many popular and critically acclaimed films for decades, with Dustin Hoffman in 1988’s Rain Man setting the bar (though it’s hard to ignore Matt Damon‘s work in Good Will Hunting given the star of this one). These characters have long been a source for inspiring stories of empowerment and tolerance, with many characters gifted with great abilities. Now comes The Accountant, a decidedly darker take on the genre where the condition is not seen as the reason for violence, but rather upbringing, a way to skirt the issue, yet this is only a small matter in a movie with larger ones.
It begins with a boy in need of special attention who is prone to fits of temper and aggressive behavior. His name is Christian Wolff (played as a boy by Seth Lee) who is at a home for neurologically impaired kids where his parents are at odds about the future of his care. Meanwhile, the boy attends to a jigsaw puzzle in a unique and very efficient manner. A bit later, his mother leaves the family, with the boy and his brother under the guidance of their strict father (Robert C. Treveiler), a highly decorated military officer (and a bit of a sadist) who decides discipline and exposure is the way to get his boys ready for the real world, giving them combat and martial arts training along with making them sharpshooters. He basically transforms Christian into a cold, mindless drone, still at the mercy of a temper that has him indulging in self-abuse. As an adult, Wolff (Ben Affleck) learns to control his behavior though it all spirals into a shooting spree where he, now known as The Accountant, takes out a few members of the Gambino crime family.
We learn most of that in flashback as the grown Wolff now works in a strip mall accounting office while keeping in storage a camping car filled with master works of art, gold bullion, first edition comic books and more. How does he afford them? On the side, he uncooks the books for some heavy-hitting mobsters and drug cartels. This of course draws the attention of U.S. Treasury Department head Ray King (J. K. Simmons), who puts pressure on fellow agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robison), a woman with her own secrets, to commit herself to finding him. Aware of this, The Accountant is instructed by his handler, known only as “The Voice” (heard only on the phone as a smooth British-voiced female), to take up a legitimate job, auditing an upstart robotics company called Living Robotics, which manufactures state-of-the art prosthetics. Working with in-house accountant, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), they uncovers a very large financial discrepancy. An then soon after, a battle for life or death.
Directed by Gavin O’Conner, The Accountant is a number of things, with its opening premise less a plot point for the how and why Wolff is who he is, but rather a character trait that serves mostly as a means to give the behavior of the stoic Christian a reason for existing. Still, the movie makes sure to demonstrate Wolff’s superior mathematical and deductive skills, along with his obsessive compulsive behaviors. After a long day out in the real world, he returns to his sterile, museum like home to strobe lights, metal thrasher music, and extreme self abuse to cage the inner monsters. These are actually some of the more intriguing moments, but as this is an action movie, they are only pauses in the often bulky story, which works in the first act, building layers and setting up the outcome, but falters in the latter half where all things lose their footing.
Even at two hours and twenty minutes, the film still doesn’t have time for all its numerous subplots and characters, many of whom we learn very little about. Wolff fades in and out of old memories, allowing the audience to play catch up, but Affleck, as good an actor as he is, is far too one-dimensional, playing it so tightly wound and expressionless, it’s hard to connect. Kendrick is the possible meet-cute romance that never happens of course, but she’s well-cast and her presence lifts many of the darker moments. The ever-captivating Simmons is reduced to exposition, especially in a lengthy talky sequence after the midpoint that screeches the pace to a near stand still.
Then there’s Jon Bernthal, playing a mysterious hired killer called “The Assassin,” who gives the show its real menace, and is the keystone of the film’s twist. Bernthal has some good moments in the role, and provides some much needed personality. However, what happens as the film progresses is a flaw that should have made this smarter but instead reduces it to bullets and beatings. Wolff could have been a truly creative and far more in-depth character, but Affleck keeps him superficial, and the script refuses to draw him in any more detail than obvious tropes. With the movie’s constant shifts in time and mishandling of characters, the admittedly good story crumbles and we’re left with a forgettable action thriller with an entirely unnecessary plot device that is setup to be far more than the actual payoff.
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Writer: Bill Dubuque
Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow
Genre: Action, Thriller