Movie Review: The Accountant
By Matthew Huntley
October 26, 2016
The Accountant is a somewhat rare thriller because it actually takes the time to be about something and then allows its characters to express how they feel about it. So often these days, thrillers seem hell bent on rushing through their narratives and shortchanging the people just to get to the "showy" stuff, like fights and chase scenes, as if it's only these elements that are capable of "thrilling" us. And while The Accountant certainly isn't lacking in these departments, the impression we get from director Gavin O'Connor and writer Bill Dubuque is they take a back seat to the more complex plot and people. And they are arguably complex, because I feel the need to re-watch the movie just to connect all the dots. What tells me The Accountant is a good movie, though, is this something I actually want to do.
Ben Affleck plays the titular character, whose real name is Christian Wolff. Christian has a high-functioning form of autism, which makes it very hard for him to leave things incomplete or let go of tasks he's made a part of his already regimented routine. Nevertheless, his mental handicap has made him very good with numbers and logic. It's also made him especially good at combat. We learn early on Christian's role as an accountant is merely a front for his real day job: a hired killer for various crime families. He receives instructions from the computerized "Voice," and with each new assignment, assumes the name of a famous mathematician. His chosen field has has made him very wealthy (just consider all the priceless paintings he keeps in his getaway trailer, which he keeps fully stocked in a storage locker), yet he remains a social outcast who has to consciously speak with intonations lest he comes across as robotic.
Pursuing Christian is Ray King (J.K. Simmons), the financial crimes director at the U.S Treasury Department who's on the verge of retirement. King's connection to the accountant goes beyond his simply wanting to capture a criminal and he tasks Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a financial analyst with a criminal history of her own, to identify and locate Christian with limited evidence. If she doesn't comply, and subsequently succeed, King threatens to expose her past.
In order to lay low and blend in, the "Voice" sets Christian up with a legitimate accounting job, away from any high-profile crime syndicates. His new assignment is at Living Robotics, a bio-engineering company where the young Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), one of the company's in-house accountants, has discovered millions of dollars are missing and unaccounted for. The two heads of Living Robotics, the brother-sister team of Lamar and Rita Blackburn (John Lithgow and Jean Smart), give Christian everything he needs to conduct his investigation and it's fairly obvious we're to suspect them of malfeasance, especially after another hired gun (Jon Bernthal) starts offing anyone associated with the company's supposed financial scandal. Eventually, Christian and Dana become friends and targets.
This present-day plot parallels a series of flashbacks that show Christian as an incorrigible and rambunctious child, whose parents and younger brother, Braxton, struggle with his disability after he's diagnosed at the Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. Christian's mother (Mary Kraft) leaves her family out of hopelessness and frustration, but his father (Robert C. Treveiler), a military officer, takes both his boys to Indonesia, among other worldly places, and has them train in the martial arts. He firmly believes it'll be up to Christian, and by association, Braxton, to proactively and preemptively fight back against a world that will most likely reject him.
With so many players and connections, The Accountant is not the easiest film to follow, but that's part of its appeal. O'Connor and Dubuque challenge us to make said connections, which proves exciting, even fun. What makes it even better is our having learned so much about the characters along the way and coming to care about them. A lesser film would have cut corners with its more human scenes, such as when Dana tells Christian about her senior prom or when Christian's father justifies his disciplinary action, or it might have dumbed down the intricacies of the plot. But not The Accountant; it starts off being about its people and story and, like Christian, it finishes what it started. The action and violence are secondary, which is good, because it's mostly your run-of-the-mill fight scenes, chase sequences and shootouts.
What's also remarkable about The Accountant is that, despite the complexity and busyness of the plot, as well as the interspersed action, it never feels rushed. It paces itself, remains coherent, and develops the characters to the point where we feel like we've gotten a good understanding of who they are, The film allows each of them just the right amount of screen time, and it helps that the actors are of the caliber where a little goes a long way.
If you see The Accountant, which I encourage you do, and you're able to follow it from start to finish without any confusion, then more power to you. You may just be as mentally fit and capable as Christian. I admit I got a little lost, but the film didn't lose me. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't process all of its threads perfectly, because it gives me an excuse to see it again with even more enthusiasm (L.A. Confidential had the same effect on me). The Accountant is a genre film, to be sure, and it contains a lot of obligatory scenes that we've seen before, but it's also a prime example of its kind, made with care and intelligence, exciting us both mentally and emotionally. And they say accountants are boring.