The Accountant (2016) (Review)

The Accountant continues a sustained run of adult-skewing dramas, right in the sweet spot of the heating-up Award season. We've had Arrival, The Girl on the Train, Nocturnal Animals, The Light Between OceansDeepwater Horizon, Inferno and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - to name just a few - all of which greatly vary in quality and success. Continuing that line of work, and his own, is Ben Affleck's The Accountant, a brutal action-thriller film directed by Gavin O'Connor.

Christian Wolff (Affleck), a small-town certified public accountant who makes his money uncooking the books for dangerous criminal organisations. When given a case by a co-orporation that quickly begins to unravel and expose the business, Wolff and Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) are forced to expose those resposible, while also being pursued by Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), the director of financial crimes for the Treasury Department, and analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who must try to identify and arrest him for a previous crime. With Wolff considered a 'highly-functioning autistic', he must overcome the limitations of his syndrome in solving the case. It takes a similar action template to other genre offerings like Jason Bourne and Reacher, while putting a twist on the lead character-come-hero.

Ben Affleck delivers a nuanced and detailed performance of a man suffering with autism, even though the script doesn't reward him with the same careful consideration for its sensitive content. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson also give solid performances in a supporting capacity, making the most out of a weaker, exposition-laden script, but is is Anna Kendrick who really shines; despite being criminally underused, she brings a hearty amount of power with her glorified cameos sprinkled throughout the two hour and eight minute runtime, allowing Kendrick's own quirkiness to shine through and inject a much needed change of tone to the script when it's severely required. In spite of these committed performances, the characters are rather thinly-written, with little in the way of crafting character arcs and journeys to ensure they are compelling and interesting enough for an audience to be willing to spend more time with them, especially with rumours of a franchise buzzing around.

Admittedly, the action in The Accountant is pretty impressive, with the film standing out for its higher age rating, in comparison to its more infamous watered-down stablemates. When these scenes kick in - for example, the farmyard fight and Dana's apartment setting - they really do thrill, with everything slickly choreographed and performed efficiently. O'Connor's direction, while not spectacular, is decent enough to keep audience's focused on the characters when the script begins to let up, with the high-intensity lighting scenes creating a sinister tease in a place in the script where we do not really know who to place our trust and belief in. Honestly, if you can suspend your disbelief long enough, and tie your head around the unnecessarily complex plot, you can find a decent amount of enjoyment. I'd call it "an unfulfilling blast".

Scattershot and convoluted, the narrative and script leave a lot to be desired. From the slow and sometime tedious opening act to the exposition-fuelled final act which races to tie everything up, The Accountant is overly long with blatant issues with pacing; the second act does liven everything up, only for it to fizzle out as the third act is beginning. The more blaring problem, and my biggest complaint in regards to the script, is its lack of attention to its central notion - an autistic anti-hero. It seems little to no research has been undertaken in order to deliver a realistic character role, and appears to have been included only for the thrill of having and showing something different on screen. It's incredibly frustrating to see an interesting idea fail because nobody wanted to take (even) a glance over a Wikipedia page to educate themselves. It is not nearly as smart as it thinks it is (with the final twist both preposterous and predictable, summing up the general feel for the film), takes itself too seriously and is woefully mishandled and problematic.

Ben Affleck, in the space of a couple of years, have given us films ranging in quality from the breath-taking and immersive Gone Girl - a masterclass in tension, power and intensity - to Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice which stands as one of my least favourite films of the year so far. The Accountant very firmly stands in the middle-lower section of that spectrum, flirting with either ends but essentially plumping for something more middling. It's ambitious (it has the intentions of a franchise written all over it), well-acted with a decent direction, but the biggest problems lie in its lazy and offensive script and uneven pacing.


Summary: The Accountant is enjoyable enough if through sheer force of will and lack of comparative action-flicks this year, but its problematic and convoluted script uncooks any of the handwork put in by stars Affleck and Kendrick.

Highlight: Anna Kendrick's performance is strong - she needs more serious roles!