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Crunching the Numbers

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck
Warner Brothers
 128 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by:  Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick
The Accountant

Two phrases that never go together in the movies are “certified public accountant” and “action hero.” While there have been any number of movies about fraud and corporate skullduggery in recent years, with accountants deeply involved in either ferreting it out or covering it up, they usually stay on the sidelines. In fact, if bullets start flying, the CPA is usually doing his best to dodge them, as exemplified by Charles Grodin in Midnight Run. So give director Gavin O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque props for creating a sharpshooting, martial arts expert, vigilante who can do your taxes as easily as blow your brains out.


The Accountant is one Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a CPA who runs a not-so-thriving business out of a small suburban strip mall. Or, at least, that’s the name he goes by currently, since Wolff has used a number of aliases, all of them names of famous mathematicians of the past. And, as veteran FBI agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) relates to his new protégé Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), whom he has charged with discovering the current whereabouts of the man known only as “the Accountant,” Wolff is also a brilliant forensic accountant, able to track down missing, embezzled, or laundered money better than anyone. That skill has made Wolff a valuable asset for a number of shady figures whose acquaintances and enemies love to skim money whenever possible.


But, as the audience soon learns, Wolff is far more than a brilliant CPA with questionable taste in clients. He’s also got extensive martial arts and other combat skills and a rather strange sense of morality, both resulting from a somewhat strange upbringing in the custody of a career military father who felt such training was necessary in order to help Wolff cope with his disability. And that’s another detail about the Accountant that’s out of the ordinary—he’s a high-functioning autistic, gifted with a photographic memory, especially when it comes to numbers, but given to obsessive/compulsive behavior. He functions at such a high level, however, that those around him might dismiss him merely as socially awkward, in other words, a typical accountant.


All of Wolff’s skills come in handy when he’s called in by a high level executive at a biotech firm that’s about ready to go public and charged with figuring out some rather substantial discrepancies on the books. These discrepancies were discovered by Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an employee in the company’s accounting division, who blew the whistle, resulting in the company hiring Wolff. It also results in a growing number of corpses, as whoever is behind the financial hanky panky wants a lid put on Wolff’s investigation.


As The Accountant progresses, and viewers learn more about Wolff’s skills and quirks, the movie becomes far more convoluted and, at the same time, somewhat more interesting as well. This is one of those complicated, twisty movies with multiple reveals along the way and numerous characters who aren’t what they appear at first. Director O’Connor employs a complicated storytelling structure, replete with flashbacks and large chunks of expository dialogue by Ray King. For the most part, it all hangs together, not because the plot is logical (it’s about as preposterous as a thriller gets), but because the audience is willing to suspend its disbelief merely to learn more about Wolff and his lifestyle.


If The Accountant does anything, it helps promote a view of autism that’s more realistic and considerably more nuanced than Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal in Rain Man. Christian Wolff has his quirks, among them a compulsion towards perfect order, but he’s also capable of functioning reasonably well in public, as when he explains some tax strategies to a couple in one of the movie’s opening scenes. In fact, there’s not a lot of difference between Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his earlier role this year as Batman. If anything, Wolff proves more likable and more “human” than the Caped Crusader and has an offbeat chemistry with the always effervescent Anna Kendrick to boot.


The movie shrewdly surrounds Affleck with a number of hammy supporting characters, including Simmons, John Lithgow (as the CEO of the company Wolff is investigating), Jeffrey Tambor (as Wolff’s mentor in prison), and Jon Bernthal (as a shadowy hitman whose path crosses with Wolff’s). As long as the audience goes along with the nonsense that the various actors are cheerfully spouting, The Accountant is a lot of escapist fun. Add to that some genuinely well-staged action scenes, and the movie is better than a number of the more traditional action thrillers this year.


At some point, however, the movie begins to sag under its own weight. There is one major plot twist late in the film that is both very easy to spot coming a mile away (especially if one remembers Roger Ebert’s rules for movies) and somewhat silly as well. This reveal comes in the final action sequence, when Wolff mounts a raid on the bad guy’s safe house, one which results in a slew of dead bodies, at which point the film chugs to a halt while the big emotional reveal plays out. There’s also one final twist at the very end of the film that cheapens the message about autism that The Accountant works hard to deliver.


The Accountant is a perfect example of an otherwise competent but routine action film, whose makers try to up the ante by means of a main character whose quirks go far beyond the standard range of movie hero eccentricities. Kudos to them for choosing an unusual profession and an unusual medical condition for their hero and for constructing a plot that, for the most part, passes the admittedly low bar of thriller movie plausibility. They then tried to transform The Accountant into a white collar Usual Suspects and managed to demonstrate that the team of Gavin O’Connor and Bill Dubuque aren’t Christopher Nolan and Roger McQuarrie. Bur, for those willing to enjoy the movie for what it is rather than for what it could have been, a quick audit reveals that The Accountant finishes comfortably in the black.

In this scene, Anna Kendrick learns the hidden side of Ben Affleck.

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The Accountant (2016) on IMDb