Anna Kendrick Ben Affleck

THE ACCOUNTANT Review: Distance Is a Heck of a Thing To Overcome

Monday, October 17, 2016 Rob Samuelson

For Christian Wolff, process is everything. Without his routine, his life falls apart. As played by Ben Affleck, the highly functional autistic Christian gets by in the world by adhering strictly to his tics with determination. He blows puffs of air onto his fingers before committing himself to a task. He does not like to be interrupted while he eats his lunch. He pores over decades of financial information with an eagle eye.He murders everyone in a building owned and operated by the mafia with cold and startling economy of movement.

Photo credit: The Accountant Movie/Facebook

Christian, you see, is not a normal financial adviser, although he files taxes on the side in a shabby suburban Chicago strip mall just ‘cause -- he helps a farmer and his wife get out of some IRS issues to show to the audience that this trained killer has a heart of gold. In his more lucrative business, he travels the world cooking and uncooking the books for crime syndicates, terror groups, and, in the case of The Accountant’s main plot, corporations looking to perform a little unseemly house cleaning. Because of his clientele, Christian (an Army brat raised by his stern, buttons-pushing father) must be skilled in hand-to-hand combat and in shooting high-powered weapons. His obsessive skill cultivation results in impressive displays of aim when he practices shooting an enormous sniper rifle in the farmer client’s field -- he aims at cantaloupes with smiley faces drawn on them.

Director Gavin O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque’s attempts to handle Christian’s autism are clumsy and inconsistent, but there are moments of poignancy and even good humor. Although he spends his evenings relentlessly (and antisocially) using a foam roller on his tight calf muscles, listening to aggressive, wordless metal at high volume, and setting a strobe light in his darkened room, Christian is essentially a productive member of society who can interact with others. He is incredibly direct and his bluntness can be unsettling to those who are unaware of his condition. He recognizes the difficulty he has in communicating gracefully, and he can make some jokes about it, like when he describes why the “incongruity” of dogs playing poker is why he laughs at the famous painting that many people, including Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), find tacky.

Dana’s introduction is when The Accountant begins to lose its footing. Dana is a young accounting employee who notices millions of dollars have gone missing from the biotech firm where she works. Christian is hired by the firm’s owner, played by John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun), to investigate where the money has gone and whose pockets it is now lining. Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) is always a likable presence, but here, her affable “aw shucks” demeanor appears to be reacting to stimuli not given to her by the movie’s plot. Her life is put in danger, through no fault of her own, but she reacts in an almost Lucille Ball way when hired thugs appear in her apartment to kill her -- she screams in a “goofy” way and swings a toilet tank cover in various directions like the physical comedian may have done in a particularly tense and violent episode of I Love Lucy. Once Christian whisks her away from the most immediate danger, she doesn’t seem to need any decompression time to deal with the fact that she almost died hours earlier, nor does she seem to care much about her continued safety. She becomes something of a trophy for Christian, a beautiful person who he can make smile, a prize for having done a good job. She is also a bit of a love interest, every bit the “cool girl” Rosamund Pike’s character seethed about in a more successful Affleck starring vehicle, 2014’s Gone Girl, except with a pinch of “quirky” thrown in for good measure.

Despite lacking in some areas, Kendrick’s genial nature is a welcome change from the bland, overly serious tone O’Connor carries throughout every level of his film. A pair of stuffy Treasury Department agents, played by J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (The CW’s Arrow), add nothing but a limp plot structure. They exist only to investigate who Christian is and to add in some cheap pathos about Simmons’s character, the soon-to-retire Ray King, learning to stop being a lazy agent after a brush with death -- Simmons, an Oscar winner, sells it as best he can, but it feels like it was dropped in from another film. Addai-Robinson, whose dark eyes blink with wheels-spinning intelligence, unfortunately is given little else to do but gasp at computer screens when the plot requires her to make a discovery. The flashbacks to Christian’s upbringing they describe could have been told without adding them to the mix, and it would have left the bloated 128-minute film leaner. They don’t carry any dramatic weight in the vengeance-laden climax between Christian, hired heavy Brax (Jon Bernthal from AMC’s The Walking Dead), and the film’s obvious-from-his-first-appearance big bad. That climax itself is poorly set up, largely because the movie invests so much time in the Treasury agents and their personal struggles instead of amplifying the villainy of its “mystery” bad guy.

O’Connor and director of photography Seamus McGarvey carry that blandness to the visual side of the climax, as well. The Accountant already has a frustratingly constant relationship with the color blue -- it’s everywhere -- but in the final fight sequence, there is nothing but deep blue and shadows. This turns Affleck, Bernthal, and the other hired goons into mere silhouettes. This is a poor decision because it has long been established that Affleck and Bernthal are combat experts who specialize in efficiency. Their movements earlier in the film, under better lighting, are short and compact. Like ace MLB pitchers, they remain centered, balanced, never selling out for a risky move. That mechanic calculation does not translate under deep shadows, which kneecaps the movie’s dramatic escalation, making what should be the picture’s most thrilling moments boring.

Because of choices like this, The Accountant takes a cue from its protagonist and struggles to make a lasting connection with others.
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Writer: Bill Dubuque
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars out of five
Available in theaters now

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