“The Accountant”: Cooking books and taking names

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This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

In the sea of films released by Hollywood every year, sometimes a movie comes along that divides the people. Most of these films are cheese: corny and ridiculous “popcorn movies” that people will either love for being exceptionally entertaining or hate for being thoughtless and messy. “The Accountant” is without a doubt a movie that toes that line; an imperfect and preposterous film that nonetheless stands as a wonderfully crafted and incredibly engaging thriller.

The plot of “The Accountant” is the setting for which both the film’s originality and absurdity bleed through. The film follows autistic accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck, “Batman v. Superman”), who moonlights as a highly skilled bookkeeper for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. Not to mention, his harsh and closed off militaristic upbringing provided him with the skills to qualify him as highly threatening himself; Wolff can bring the pain to anyone who threatens him, displaying a “Jason Bourne” like aptitude with guns and fists. When a seemingly legal and routine consulting job starts to go wrong, it’s up to Wolff to find the individuals responsible and save himself and another accountant (Anna Kendrick, “Pitch Perfect”) who made the mistake of showing interest in him as well as the accounting errors that mark them as targets.

This is of course completely bonkers and potentially problematic. Creating a badass protagonist with a mental disability is inspired, but also invites a truckload of possibly harmful misconceptions about autism and other related disorders. However, Affleck’s committed performance along with a respectful and admirable characterization make Wolff shine. Affleck truly dives into this role, bringing the silent warrior persona of his buddy Matt Damon’s Bourne role and mixing it with a nuanced portrayal of a savant who is human, unlike the overwrought and often insulting “Rain Man” stereotypes that plague most films involving autistic characters. He is always convincing and a dream to watch, turning what could have been exploitative into multilayered and complex admiration for his character. It’s simply one of the finest performances of his career, and easily the best part of the film.

While Affleck’s performance is the centerpiece of the film, the style and action are entertaining as well. None of them reinvent the wheel, but they are tightly and solidly executed and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch Affleck navigate through these scenes. The film excellently emulates the styles of the action films that inspired it, and it’s all the more exciting for that.

The film’s flaws lie in its subplots, which were where the silliness teeters between confused and poorly thought out. JK Simmon’s (“Whiplash”) treasury director character, while well performed, has confused and unclear motives and sends an agent on a wild goose chase to find the accountant, a plot that basically serves to provide exposition and offer some kind of morally incomprehensible lesson. It’s where the messy roots of the script come to fruition and prevent the movie from rising above its B-movie cheese.

“The Accountant” is a study in what it means to be an anti-hero film. The film is unfocused, moving from action flick to corporate thriller to a romance between outsiders. However, it pins you to your seat in a way few films will this year and it  offers something unique: a depiction of an autistic individual who is not a perfect machine, but a human being. Who would have thought a cheesefest B-movie like this could achieve such a feat.

Ryan Ninesling