“The Accountant” is one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year. In describing the “genre-bending thriller”, director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s such an odd movie, man.” One of the integral lines of dialogue featured in the trailer and the film is when a supporting character says “Different scares people.” But being different can also define who you are, and this movie’s off-beat approach to the art of storytelling is extremely satisfying. “The Accountant” mixes heavy action, crime, deep themes of family/relationship dynamics, insights into serious developmental issues, light humor and even a touch of romance into one cohesive experience. Writer Bill Dubuque, who attempted to achieve the same results with “The Judge” (Robert Duvall’s performance was the only strong element) is much more successful here in crafting a truly original screenplay that blends high intensity with genuine sincerity.
Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, an accountant who runs a small, Illinois firm called “ZZZ Accounting”. As a minor character points out midway through, it’s a bummer for your business to have that name when listed in the Yellow Pages. But it’s clear that Wolff is not concerned about that. We learn through flashbacks to his childhood, as well as scenes as an adult, that Wolff suffers from Autism (though that word is not used until about an hour into the movie). He has trouble socializing with people and is still haunted by his past. But he is a mathematical genius, and therefore his professional services are greatly in demand – specifically by those around the world who deal with large amounts of money obtained illegally. Wolff is hired by a cutting-edge tech firm, Living Robotics, after it’s suspected that someone on the inside is stealing money from the company.
However, as mild-mannered as Wolff may seem in public, he has a big secret – he’s a trained killing machine. And FBI Treasury Agent, Ray King (J.K. Simmons), makes it his mission to hunt down Wolff (who, not surprisingly, may be operating under one or two other aliases) before his upcoming retirement. An early scenes with King interacting with his new prodigy/assistant in the case, an analyst named Medina (played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson), is enthralling – an instant plot-hooker.
“The Accountant” is staged in sections, with chunks of the film devoted to two or three different characters for extended periods. The method works, allowing the entire ensemble to shine. Affleck is quite believable in a refreshing, multi-layered role, and Simmons was a perfect casting choice (isn’t he always). John Lithgow and Jean Smart play executives of Living Robotics. Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor is featured in a few scenes as a prison confidant of Wolff’s. Jon Bernthal does star-solidifying work as hitman, Brax. And Anna Kendrick, as LR accountant, Dana Cummings, who befriends Wolff, gives her best performance since “Up in the Air”. [To help prepare for the role, Kendrick actually sent the script to her mother, who is an actual accountant.]
These characters draw emotions out of us in the most unexpected places. “The Accountant” is a crowd-pleaser, though not in the traditional sense. O’Connor is bold in not shying away from the realities of wide spectrum of developmental disabilities. There are several raw scenes which, in lesser hands, would have seemed exploitive and clearly out of place in a crime thriller. Instead, they make us root even more for Wolff (even though he’s not necessary a “good guy” – or is he?) Affleck has called this role the first “Autistic Superhero” ever portrayed on screen.
The story goes in a few minor directions I wish it hadn’t (and a climactic fight scene includes way too many versions of the same shot of a character watching the action on a monitor), but I have to admit there are a couple of twists that simply blew me away. And at the heart of “The Accountant” is an idea which Kendrick’s Cummings says to Wolff in her best scene, “We all just wanna belong.” This film belongs on the list of most surprisingly effective movies of the year.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Accountant” gets an A-.
Running Time: 128 min.