"The Accountant" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime: 128 minutes
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Written by Bill DuBuque
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Director Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant is a superhero movie disguised as a tax-based spy/Borne thriller about autism, a film so thick with detail and information that it borders on convolution, but is held tightly together by Ben Affleck's frighteningly commanding (and dare I say "nuanced") performance.
The Accountant is a film about a race to find a man, a savant who is highly effective at cooking the books for his clients, some of which are less-than-refutable. His ties to multiple murders, involving mafia bosses, has drawn the attention of the Treasury Department (headed by J.K. Simmons). Meanwhile, "The Accountant" (Ben Affleck) is hired by a wealthy robotics manufacturer to find an error in his accounting, an action that leads to the death of colleagues and putting the lives of the accountant and the CPA hired before him (Anna Kendrick) in danger from militaristic hitmen (led by Jon Bernthal). Only then do we see who this "accountant" really is, and what he is capable of.
There's so much going on in The Accountant that at one point I felt it would have done even better as a Narcos-style twelve episode miniseries on Netflix. Director Gavin O'Connor and writer Bill DuBuque do a great job of keeping the film so rife with substance that many details may pass you by on first viewing (many of which were brought to my attention in discussion immediately afterward). The Accountant borders on being convoluted, partly due to the editor's difficult task at trying to jumble together multiple themes and storylines, mainly involving the Treasury Department's investigation on who this mysterious "Accountant" guy is, and on the audience's experience with Affleck's character as we learn first-hand who he really is.
I saw an inherent issue with this film when the trailers first premiered. The preview to me showed what looked to be two distinctly different films - one involving a child overcoming his autism, and then one with the adult Ben Affleck version using his limitations as skills. But I wasn't sure if the film was going in the route of a drama or an action film, and after watching it, I still feel the film could have gone either way (it went more the action route, and the previews intentionally - or unintentionally - made the audience believe it was something that it was not). I don't fault the film for that, but it gave me an idea that the actual film itself carried so much substance in a short two-hour run time that it could have benefited from being spread out in an episodic manner.
Comparisons to The Usual Suspects are mostly unfounded. This movie doesn't have a big twist ending that will make you go back to watch the movie again to see the clues that lead to the conclusion. This film is more revelatory, showing little things that are subtly set up throughout the film that some people may see coming depending on their knowledge of technology, mental disorders, or the history of the film's director and the themes he likes to portray and use in his films. There's no "Oh my God!" moment when I found out two things that, when thinking back, were totally set up with little clues early on in the film. One of the reveals I found out twenty or so minutes before it happened, and the final one at the conclusion of the film is just a neat little thing that didn't elevate the story, but was a nice touch that tied this gift of a film together with a nice little bow.
My knowledge is limited on the intricacies of autism and Asperger's Syndrome, but the film had me sold on its use of such character limitations, or in some regards, highly-valued qualities. Ben Affleck clearly did research to pull of his dedicated performance, one that is at times flowing from charming to frightening as a man afflicted with "functioning autism" who was trained by his military father to harness his capabilities and learn how to adapt to the seemingly extra-sensory perceptions of the world around him. Every scene Ben Affleck is on screen is captivating and, quite frankly, impressive. The movie often flashes back and forth, and the scenes involving Affleck's character of Christian Wolff as a boy will offer a lot of fuel for the need to see the film again. Many little details, involving Affleck's wardrobe and routines, play off of what the audience learns in the earlier portions of the film. The film makers also make a fantastic choice not to spell these details out to the audience, but instead leave them there for us to discover and ponder.
I will throw my two cents in here and say that any time J.K. Simmons is in a film it is immediately elated, and he is given a real moment to shine here. The best, most emotionally-driven scene in the film comes from J.K. Simmons' character who, in a moment between what could be his choice of life or death, reveals much about himself in a breakdown that is gut-wrenching, horrifying, and profound. The other stars in the film are also effective in their roles, with Anna Kendrick's character making sense in that Ben Affleck's functioning autistic would actually be attracted to her, not only for her somewhat manically-charming behavior, but for her as a clear dynamic that ties in to his nightly routine of bombarding his senses with loud music, strobe lights, and self-inflicted pain in order to dull his senses to the world his greater mind has trouble functioning within. Her character isn't one-note, and has traits that would appeal to a man of his nature, and happily she isn't written off as your typical Hollywood "love interest." There's much more to their relationship than that unnecessary bullshit. Marvel's The Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal, is also in another note-worthy role here as a badass hitman who is a little more grounded than Affleck's savant, but is also just as dangerous in his ways of getting the information he needs to hunt the secret accountant who would give Captain American himself a shit load of trouble in hand-to-hand combat.
So overall I really liked this film. I didn't expect it to be such an action-heavy film and was anticipating a more dramatically-themed script, but to its advantage it takes what we learn about mental/social disorders and allows these aspects to create a deeper lead character without pandering to the dumber audiences. The action itself, which to some will probably be written off as the "dumber parts of the movie," actually has a lot of technical gunplay and combat involved in it, which always, ALWAYS, makes for far more engaging fight scenes. I highly recommend The Accountant to people who aren't looking for cheap, pandering/political Oscar-bait material, but looking for a good night out with a well-acted action movie that has a lot of fun character and story details that make for instant rewatchability.
If you're a fan of director Gavin O'Connor's highly underrated Warrior (one of my favorite movies of the past five years) and are familiar with the themes he utilizes in his storytelling, then some ideas and themes in The Accountant may not come as such a surprise.
It's really damn odd to hear myself say that I look forward to Ben Affleck's roles. After Robert Downey, Jr., Affleck may have the next most-successful career turnaround in contemporary Hollywood history. What once was a 90s, coke-fueled tool of a douchebag is now one of the more highly-sought after film makers working. He's become a gifted actor with a decent range of performances under his belt, and in many cases (and even the most dissenting of audiences of Batman v. Superman can agree) has been the best part of the recent films he's starred in.