The Accountant

Review by Manuela Lazic

Directed by

Gavin O’Connor

Starring

Anna Kendrick Ben Affleck JK Simmons

Anticipation.

Ben Affleck in an action role where he can again be terrifyingly expressionless. Could be fun!

Enjoyment.

A ludicrous mess. A lot happens but nothing sticks.

In Retrospect.

This cast deserves better than a faux-’70s action thriller. Tedious and forgettable.

Ben Affleck’s compelling low-key performance isn’t enough to save this by-the-numbers thriller.

One of the most fascinating takeaways from David Fincher’s 2014 thriller Gone Girl was the possibility that Ben Affleck’s often expressionless face could nonetheless be captivating. Two years later, director Gavin O’Connor attempts to recapture the magic by casting him as a semi-autistic accountant-cum-covert killing machine. This combination sets up a minimalistic performance from Affleck, but also makes for a tiresome film that tries to have its cake and eat it too, leaving barely a few crumbs for its audience.

We first meet Christian Wolff (Affleck) as a child battling with mental health issues and with his parents’ confusion towards them. His father, a military man, stereotypically refuses to see anything positive in Christian’s difference, preferring instead to protect him by teaching him to fight back so that he may be left in peace. Flash forward some 25 years later and Christian is now leading a normal, uneventful life as the local accountant in a small American town. And he seems satisfied enough – he’s not interested in small talk with his clients, he focuses on doing their accounting with extreme efficiency, before returning to his daily rituals, presented in all their minute details.

In a bid to avoid trading in obvious cliché, O’Connor opts to flesh out every possible stereotype usually attributed to both autistic behaviour and accountants. Being slightly obsessed, Christian likes order, therefore his food is placed carefully on his plate. And since he is a man of high-functioning intellect, he appreciates great art, owning a few paintings which he enjoys staring at regularly while listening to classical music. Yet Christian’s muffled frustration towards himself and his difficult childhood means that he needs to blast out some metal music while hurting himself regularly.

Watching this succession of expanded examples of characteristic habits, it’s hard not to think that, however simplistic and demeaning stereotypes can be, they exist as shortcuts to avoid such boring scenes of exposition. Rather than making Christian more human, O’Connor’s attention to detail turns him into a boringly complex character.

Being a genius, Christian excels at his job, especially so when hired to look into the books of big corporations trying to avoid scandals or to launder money. When Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow, given very little to do) is alerted by his employee Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick, convincing as a regular accountant and all-round polite person) that some money has been leaking from his company Living Robotics, he contacts Christian. Overnight, Christian uncooks 15 years worth of books and finds said leak in a rousing montage of him covering the walls of the room with numbers and calculations.

As he enthusiastically shares his findings with Dana the next day, the film almost manages to make accounting seem exciting. When the discovery leads to brutal murders and the sudden shutdown of Christian’s investigations, O’Connor even comes close to the deliciously dark terrain of 1970s conspiracy dramas à la All the President’s Men, where the only way to find the truth is to tediously dig into paperwork.

Unfortunately, in a nervous and schizophrenic attempt to tick all possible boxes, O’Connor suddenly loses all confidence in the possibility for maths and criminal schemes to be thrilling in themselves and adds a hefty dose of action to the drama. When he refuses to let the case go, Christian has to face countless skilled and armed men, all the while hiding his identity from the Treasury Department led by Ray King (JK Simmons) with whom he has various accounts to settle.

As flashbacks reveal, Christian’s father taught him a lot more than just to protect his teeth in fights at school, and still with his stern face, Christian punches, stabs and shoots every man who gets in his way. This violence can be seen as the mark of another ’70s influence, recalling as it does the heartless bloodiness of Dirty Harry. With its focus on family, the film even has a touch of the vengeful mercilessness of Death Wish about it. Sadly, O’Connor distances himself from those films by choosing the easier and nowadays more commonly travelled path of casual hyper-violence. After a while, seeing Christian shoot men point blank in the face with a loud gun becomes slightly less horrific, but the body count’s exorbitance remains at once shocking and irritatingly inconsequential.

Such lazy string-pulling rarely excites, and is in fact characteristic of the film’s narrative: the final act reveals a succession of twists and connections in extended flashbacks and lengthy confession scenes that feel like betrayals of the audience’s trust. Even then, The Accountant still manages to leave many questions unanswered.

Published 3 Nov 2016

Tags: Anna Kendrick Ben Affleck

Anticipation.

Ben Affleck in an action role where he can again be terrifyingly expressionless. Could be fun!

Enjoyment.

A ludicrous mess. A lot happens but nothing sticks.

In Retrospect.

This cast deserves better than a faux-’70s action thriller. Tedious and forgettable.

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