Accountant, The (United States, 2016)October 14, 2016
The Accountant is a superhero movie. Despite not being based on an existing comic book (a welcome change), the film has all the beats and tropes we have come to expect from superhero movies, although the R-rating makes it more of an adult experience than one targeted for younger viewers. (The massive success of Deadpool argues that there is room in the genre for films not rated PG-13.) Also, the involvement of Ben Affleck as the elite-trained vigilante and J.K. Simmons as his law enforcement contact make it difficult not to notice synergies with Warner Brothers’ newly rebooted Batman franchise. The thing that makes The Accountant unique, however, and elevates it above the garden variety action-thriller, is that the title character’s “superpowers” result from his autism.
It would be easy to make autism a convenient plot device to jump-start The Accountant but the movie treats the condition with respect, even going so far as to provide some PSA-style information (although the scene in which this occurs, shortly after the climax, is awkwardly inserted). Affleck’s Christian Wolff is in many ways defined by his autism. He’s high functioning but the script goes to lengths to show how he struggles with many so-called “normal” activities, how it requires an effort for him to function in social settings, and how his life is regimented and ruled by precision. His condition grants him incredible mathematical and analytical capabilities. His anti-bullying training as a child gives him strength, flexibility, martial arts, and marksman skills. So he’s a little like a socially awkward Batman without the mask and costume.
Take away Wolff’s unique character aspects and The Accountant would be a fairly standard-order superhero movie with hardcore violence. It’s about the Feds, as represented by Director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) and his sidekick, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), tracking Christian as he attempts to untangle a web of deceit and murder orbiting the founder of a multi-billion dollar robotics corporation (played by John Lithgow). He finds himself in conflict with Braxton (Jon Bernthal), the leader of a private security militia whose duties go beyond merely offering “protection.” Braxton is a worthy adversary for reasons that eventually become apparent. Along the way, Christian becomes involved with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), a CPA for the robotics firm, and appoints himself as her protector when he realizes she is in danger. However, due to his poor social skills, he is never able to express any feelings he may have for her in a meaningful fashion.
The movie uses flashbacks to fill in Christian’s origin story, cherry-picking incidents from his past to show how he developed from a reclusive, introverted child into the person he has become. These inserts are logically placed to enhance the story rather than intrude on it. Christian’s relationship with Dana is awkward, as one might expect, and Affleck does a convincing job during their conversations. He rarely makes eye contact and seems trapped between wanting to say something and needing to flee from the room. Kendrick, like J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson, is underused. There’s a sense that the movie is establishing those characters for bigger roles in a potential sequel. Although The Accountant stands on its own, it’s easy to see how it could end up being the first film in a franchise.
During the course of his career, director Gavin O’Connor has shown the ability to do interesting things with genre material. This was perhaps most evident in Warrior, a seemingly generic sports film that turned out to be much more. The Accountant is like that - a movie that could easily have been familiar, disposable entertainment but is made with sufficient competence and energy to capture the viewer’s attention and linger a little after the end credits have rolled. The film offers a couple of surprises. Attentive viewers may guess one of these before its explicit unveiling but recognizing this doesn’t diminish its importance or impact. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Accountant provides a solid starting place for a series or, if the box office doesn’t warrant a continuation, an engaging stand-alone thriller. Ultimately, Warner Brothers’ accountants will make the final determination.
Accountant, The (United States, 2016)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Seth Lee, Robert C. Treveiler
Screenplay: Bill Dubuque
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers