Mark Reviews Movies

The Accountant


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gavin O'Connor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Robert C. Treveiler, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger, Seth Lee

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Running Time: 2:08

Release Date: 10/14/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 13, 2016

When you tell kids that they can be and do anything, it might be a good idea to have some stipulations. In The Accountant, a young boy with high-functioning autism is told that he can live what people might call a "normal" life, and as a man, he is working as an accountant to the worst of the worst, ensuring that their finances are in order and making considerable money doing so. He's also a brutal killer, who will go after anyone who goes against, what one character calls, his "moral code."

Something has gone terribly wrong in the time between Christian's (Ben Affleck) boyhood and his current life, but this isn't the sort of a movie that cares about this character enough to examine the methods and results of that transformation. No, this is a movie in which the concept of a unique character is just that—a concept.

A few flashbacks reveal the ways Christian learned his trades—both staying alive while working for an assortment of illegal organization and being able to defend himself or attack when he thinks it's necessary. These scenes only exist, though, as a way of explaining the concept of the character. They serve as an explanation of how of this man became who he is. The more significant questions—of why and what that means—are irrelevant to screenwriter Bill Dubuque, whose screenplay just goes from one plot point to the next.

There are, though, a couple of intriguing things that the script and director Gavin O'Connor do with this fairly straightforward material. One of them is to treat each and every major plot revelation without much to-do.

There's a certain matter-of-fact, dismissive quality to the way the screenplay approaches the story's twists. When the identity of the central villain is finally revealed, for example, it happens without any build-up within a scene: The villain (whose identity isn't much a secret, to be honest) starts a late scene in the middle of a conversation with a character to whom only the villain would talk. It doesn't happen as a major event. It's simply happening as part of something else.

The superficial appearance of this approach almost fools us to believe that this is a story about these characters. It could work, too, if not for the fact that the characters are so transparently thin. Christian, who takes a legitimate job to find missing money within a tech company run by Lamar Black (John Lithgow), is simply the hero, although the movie's early scenes offer a look into his struggle to maintain the appearance of "normalcy" in society. After a day's work of bland number-crunching, he sits in his bedroom with a bright light flashing and heavy metal music blaring, running a wooden roller up and down his shin, as a means of self-stimulation.

The character's autism, though, is ultimately a veil of complexity over a standard-issue action hero. At a certain point in the movie, Christian's challenges become little more than opportunities for punch lines, either in the way he interacts with people or in how he reacts in violent situations—with a calm, seemingly cold-blooded efficiency (Turning this particular character into such a killer is counterintuitive to the movie's early attempts to see him through an empathetic lens, but that's an entirely different discussion to be had).

The plot involves Christian trying to escape a deadly conspiracy that opens up once he finds a problem in the tech company's books. A different killer (played by Jon Bernthal) arrives to clean up the loose ends, and Christian and Dana (Anna Kendrick), an employee who first found problems with the company's finances, are two of those loose ends. Despite the protests of his handler (a mysterious voice on the other end of the phone), Christian decides to protect Dana. Their relationship ends just before it can go anywhere, although, considering the semi-romantic direction it's heading, that might be for the best (Kendrick, though, rises above the contrivance of her character).

A subplot follows a Treasury Department agent named Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) searching for Christian's true identity under threat of her boss Raymond King (J.K. Simmons). It is almost completely unnecessary, except as an excuse to offer a flashback showing that Christian is not entirely without moral standards. The whole story thread is anticlimactic, since it reveals nothing about Christian that we do not already know. The only saving grace in this section is Simmons, whose performance—within the flashback and while relating the exposition—is at least compelling. The character's motive for seeking Christian, though, doesn't make much sense.

Neither does the direction in which the movie ultimate goes. Any semblance of this screenplay emphasizing characters over plot disappears, as the movie offers a series of one-sided fights and shootouts. As for the final revelation of The Accountant, it tries to reframe the entire narrative in an instant, and the sudden shift in priorities is almost comical (The exasperated looks from the villain, as he tries to figure out what's happening, don't help). The climax is the payoff to an entirely different version of this movie, but at least it helps cement what's flawed about this one.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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