Convoluted, violent story doesn’t add up to a picture worth seeing
Ben Affleck has always had a sort of a cold, distant quality; showcasing warmth and deep emotion isn’t his strong suit. Such chilliness is what made him both a decent Batman and so good in a role like the one he had in Gone Girl, in which he played such a standoffish husband that he easily seemed capable of murdering his wife. So it’s not surprising that director Gavin O’Connor (best known for the 2011 cult hit Warrior) would cast Affleck in his new film The Accountant, an action thriller in which Affleck plays Christian “Chris” Wolff, an imperturbable accountant and assassin with a high-functioning form of autism who connects better with numbers than with people. The problem, though, is that O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge) play much of Chris’s condition for laughs, and the Rain Man-as-Jason Bourne premise doesn’t succeed nearly as well as the filmmakers probably hoped it would.
The other problem with O’Connor’s film is that there’s just way too much going on. At least four separate story threads try to come together by film’s end, and by then, the audience is either too confused or too bored to care. We get some flashbacks to young Chris’s upbringing, when his condition first became known, and his parents, a strict military disciplinarian of a father and an anxious, overwhelmed mother, differ on how to help their son. Unable to handle the stress of a special needs child, Chris’s mother abandons the family, leaving Chris and his brother Braxton to be raised by a father who moves them 34 times in 17 years; along the way, Dad teaches his boys military style fighting and weaponry tactics, which the filmmakers seem to laud as some sort of excellent parenting.
How his father’s influence shades Chris’s life choices becomes clear later, as Chris, now working as a forensic accountant for some of the most notorious international crime families, tries to go legit by taking on a seemingly above-board client, a robotics company helmed by a slippery CEO (John Lithgow, always good). At the robotics firm, Chris meets Dana (Anna Kendrick), a junior level accountant who has noticed some issues on the firm’s books; Chris is brought in to help find the problem, but of course there’s much more going on than just a simple math error or two.
From there, more story lines converge, as the U.S. Treasury Department Director of Financial Crimes Ray King (J.K. Simmons, tough and thoughtful) and his underling Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who, of course, has her own unnecessary back story, try to figure out who Chris is and bring him in. Pretty soon we get all kinds of chase scenes and shoot outs, and the body count starts to rise rapidly.
And with that, the film’s real problem becomes clear; Chris is essentially a cold-blooded killer, but he’s held up as some kind of hero, in effect because of his congenital condition. The theme of the movie seems to be that being “different” is not only okay, but also admirable, especially if you have bad ass fighting and weapons skills. For the film to make the point that kids on the spectrum can grow up to be successful is one thing, but if that “success” equals becoming an assassin without consequence, I’m not sure that’s the inspirational, positive message the filmmakers think it is. Thematic problems aside, the film also suffers from being overtly and unnecessarily violent, and it’s filled with too many coincidences and long periods of exposition (a scene in which Ray pedantically explains ostensibly to Marybeth the history and motivations for their investigation is so clearly meant to be the “okay, here’s what’s really going on” moment for the audience that it’s just embarrassing, and serves only to make you think that Dubuque got tired and wanted to quickly wrap up his script).
That said, however, the film is not without a few worthwhile moments; Affleck and Kendrick play off each other nicely and have a genuine rapport, and their scenes together are the best in the movie. Unfortunately, though, Kendrick is underused, as the filmmakers push violence and action to the forefront, dropping the human interest story. Simmons is always effective at this type of seen-it-all, world-weary law enforcement role, and Jeffrey Tambor is a bright spot in a small but welcome role as a fellow convict Chris meets in flash back scene to a stint in Ft. Leavenworth, in yet another story layer.
There is certainly a lot of talent here, and everyone is doing fine work; you get the impression that all the actors think they are in a better picture than they actually are. That O’Connor and Dubuque couldn’t have provided a richer, more complex story for their cast to work with is the real shame, especially since their story premise is indeed unique, and seeing more characters like Chris on screen would be welcome. We just need them to be in better, less ridiculous stories.
The Accountant opens today at Bay Area theaters.