A film review by Craig J. Koban October 21, 2016


2016, R, 128 mins.


Ben Affleck as Chris  /  J.K. Simmons as Ray King  /  Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Marybeth Medina  /  Robert C. Treveiler as Young Chris' Father  /  John Lithgow as Lamar Black  /  Anna Kendrick as Dana  /  Jeffrey Tambor as Francis Silverberg  /  Jon Bernthal as Brax

Directed by Gavin O'Connor  /  Written by Bill Dubuque

At face value, the central premise of Gavin O'Connor's THE ACCOUNTANT is inordinately silly, not to mention that its main storyline strains credulity at multiple times and contains not one, but two would-be shocking plot twists that nearly derailed my overall enjoyment of it (more on that in a bit).  

Yet, O'Connor brings his characteristic stalwart and precise direction to the material (he previously made the greatly underrated western JANE GOT A GUN as well as two terrific sports dramas in WARRIOR and MIRACLE) that helps to dramatically anchor and ground the film when it could have derailed into wanton preposterousness.  That, and we have a remarkably subtle, committed, and effectively modulated lead performance by Ben Affleck as the titular character that's afforded uncommon and highly compelling depth as far as these genre pictures go.  With a more-than-competent filmmaker/actor dynamic, THE ACCOUNTANT actually makes for an intriguingly respectful case study for those that are afflicted with autism, and the film never uses it as a sensationalistic plot device.   



Affleck plays Christian, who as a young lad was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism that his mother wanted to treat using the proper therapy channels, but his aggressively militaristic father would have none of that and instead opted to use what he felt was a more pragmatic approach to curtailing his son's condition using "experience"...and underground training that only stealthy assassins would seem to require.  Flashforward to the present and Christian has become a fairly well adjusted (as much as his childhood conditioning has allowed him) adult with his own accounting firm that caters to the daily needs of those that require his rather brilliant mathematical and analytical skills to ensure that they don't have to pay the government anything they don't have to.  Beyond work, Christian leads a life of solitude and habitual rituals to keep his autism in check...but he also has some darker secrets, like the fact that he's taken on some very dangerous criminal clients in the past and present as a cooker of their books, to which he's paid for his services in highly unusual, but untraceable ways (his secret base of operations contains an original Jackson Pollock and Golden Age comic books).   

His clandestine work catches the eyes of the Treasury Department's Director Ray King (J.K. Simmons, soon to be playing Commission Gordon to Affleck's Batman in the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE) and his newest recruit Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and the pair try to piece a series of labyrinthine clues together to discover the real identity of this "accountant" and where he can be located.  Meanwhile, Christian takes a job at a robotics development firm led by its tycoon founder Lamar (John Lithgow), who's looking at the firm's books alongside their CPA Dana (Anna Kendrick).  As Christian digs deeper he discovers a horrible web of lies and deceit within the company's numbers, and when Dana becomes the target of assassination he springs to action to defend and protect her while he gets answers.  She's predictably startled be the uncovering of Christian's real day job, but nevertheless works with him to trace her company's corruption.  While this occurs, the Treasure Department starts bearing down hard on Christian, not to mention that he becomes embroiled with Brax (Jon Bernthal, who recently played The Punisher on Netflix's DAREDEVIL, rounding off this film's comic book trifecta), a security militia force leader with a distinctive history of his own. 

"The Accountant" in THE ACCOUNTANT is one of the more interesting personas to grace an action thriller in quite some time, and one who's built on layer upon layer of fascinating backstory clues that makes for an enthralling case study.  Here's a poor child whose life was almost rendered unmanageable by his cognitive disorder, but he was able to become a functioning adult via some very tough fatherly love that's based on tenants of rigid self-reliance over therapy.  Ultimately, yes, Christian grew into adulthood and learned how to subvert his autism to carry on a productive career (granted, under questionable circumstances), but he's also a figure of pathetic isolation that has formed no meaningful relationship ties with anyone.  All he knows is his work and his nightly routines to calm himself down for bedtime (which involves medication, strobe lights, and a lot of Heavy Metal music).  Christian remains an unusually gripping character throughout THE ACCOUNTANT, mostly because Bill Dubuque's (THE JUDGE) screenplay keeps us constantly guessing as to what this man's motives are and whether or not he truly works for forces of good or evil. 

Despite an illustrious and critically acclaimed life in front of and beyond the camera, Affleck still manages to not get the respect he rightfully deserves in many filmgoer circles.  He shows yet again in THE ACCOUNTANT what a perceptive and focused performer he's capable of being when given just the right material and character to sink his teeth into.  It would have been easy for a lesser actor to ham-infestedly overplay Christian and his autism to shamelessly melodramatic effect, but Affleck is wise here in demonstrating that a less-is-more approach is the right one for the character.  He brings fascinating nuance and, most importantly, credibility to what could have been ludicrous character and he captures Christian's internal cerebral war within himself impeccably well.  The other performances are wonderfully dialed in as well, especially Simmons' work as his semi-beleaguered, but steadfastly determined treasury agent.  He has a moment midway through the film that involves him engaging in a reflective monologue that's heavy on exposition that's made all the more digestible because of his authentic nonchalance in relaying it.  That's what great actors do - they elevate sometimes middling material on the page. 

O'Connor frames the many action beats like a pro, but part of problem with THE ACCOUNTANT is that it takes an achingly long time to build towards these intense and well engineered moments.  The first half of the film is scattershot and sluggish as it takes multiple detours back and forth in time to introduce us to all of the key players.  THE ACCOUNTANT never really generates a suspense-filled pulse until about 60 minutes in, and even then the script poses many unintentional questions at viewers, like why Christian's father thought that the best approach to his son's upbringing was to train him to be an extraordinarily lethal ass kicking machine.  Granted, that makes it extremely convenient for him to hold his own against equally dangerous adversaries later on.  Speaking of convenient, then there's the manner in which Christian's autism is able to be subjugated and/or rear its ugly head at times only when the screenplay deems it...convenient.   

THE ACCOUNTANT has, as mentioned, two plot twists, one of which can be seen from a proverbial mile away by anyone with a pulse that was watching the movie and paying attention to the flashback sequences (much like the problematic and recent THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, THE ACCOUNTANT suffers from the same affliction of having a seemingly insignificant character made predictably significant during a big climatic reveal). The second plot twist is just nonsensically dumb and doesn't make a hill of beans worth of sense.  Still, they weren't enough to write off this film from a worthy recommendation from me, seeing as THE ACCOUNTANT is built upon a foundation solid action, thankless performances, and a main character that becomes a jumbled series of jigsaw puzzle pieces that compels viewers to put them together during its 128 minutes.    

Not all of this film's pieces make sense or fit snuggly together.  Hell...some embrace loony absurdity at times.  However, it's still pretty cool to have an action film with an autistic super hero at its helm.  

Very cool, actually

 this film.


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