Based on premise alone, director Gavin O’Connor’s action thriller The Accountant has all the makings of a boom-or-bust kind of movie.
The high-concept story follows a high-functioning autistic accountant who moonlights as a bookkeeper for criminal organizations, only to find himself targeted by one of his clients and forced to reveal that (surprise!) his particular set of skills includes more than just crunching numbers.
It’s an intriguing set-up made even more so by the fact that Ben Affleck – of both the critically praised film The Town and the widely panned Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice – portrays the aforementioned accountant.
All of these factors add up to a film that has as much chance of being uniquely compelling as it does of being laughably bad (and possibly insulting).
Fortunately, the final product comes down more on the side of the compelling than insulting.
A surprisingly balanced blend of tightly-wound drama and brutally efficient action, The Accountant does a nice job of maintaining its momentum throughout the course of its long – by action genre standards, at least – 128-minute running time. Affleck’s character rests in that gray area between hero and villain, and the two-time Oscar winner offers up a genuinely memorable, morally conscious criminal who seems entirely aware of (and comfortable with) the tenuous position he’s taken.
In the wrong hands, the main character’s condition – a sort of high-functioning autism similar to Asperger syndrome – could have manifested on the screen in troubling ways, but to the credit of Affleck and the film’s creative team, the effects of his neurodevelopmental disorder are neither played as an impediment to him nor made the focal point of the story. The ways in which his condition has shaped the person he’s become are hinted at, but the film wisely stops short of suggesting it has ever truly controlled his life. It’s a subtle but very important (and hopefully, very intentional) decision that boils down to the difference between autism being a part of his character or autism being his entire character.
Affleck manages to channel the social manifestations of autism without being too heavy-handed in portraying that ever-present internal struggle.
Affleck proves just as adept with the film’s intense action sequences, and The Accountant ends up making a good case for him as an action movie star – possibly a stronger argument than Batman V. Superman made. The title character in The Accountant is essentially Affleck’s version of Jason Bourne, and he sells it well.
The film also boasts an impressive supporting cast, with Oscar-winning Whiplash actor JK Simmons playing a veteran U.S. Treasury agent, Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) as a fellow accountant who gets caught up in the conspiracy surrounding Affleck’s character, and The Walking Dead and Daredevil actor Jon Bernthal playing a lethal agent of a private security team. Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), John Lithgow (Interstellar), and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus) play additional supporting roles.
Simmons offers up his typically great performance, but neither he nor Kendrick are given a lot of screen time to work with in the film. Of the entire supporting cast, it’s Bernthal’s portrayal of the charismatic killer on the trail of Affleck’s character that might be the most memorable of the movie’s second-tier players. Cool, confident, and oozing with emotion, Bernthal’s character is the polar opposite of Affleck’s accountant and manages to grab your attention in nearly every scene he’s in – even some of the shots he shares with Affleck.
The story itself is where The Accountant has some trouble making the numbers work out.
The slow burn and moody tone set by O’Connor does an admirable job of distracting from a plot that’s a bit of a mess at times, but the narrative elements of The Accountant simply don’t hold up all that well under scrutiny. Full of plot holes and convoluted attempts at exposition, the film is at its best when it doesn’t spend too much time trying to explain its characters’ motivations.
The relationship between Affleck’s character and his father – and brother, for that matter – are given tremendous weight early on in the film, but the story never pays off that early investment in the characters. The audience is given little reason to care about them or understand his relationship with them, and the film seems to take for granted that we’ll connect with them through Affleck’s character – a character that, by the nature of his condition, often remains emotionally separated from the world around him.
Still, The Accountant never feels like a two-hour movie, due in large part to its director’s knack for finding just the right balance between action and heavy dramatic elements. It’s that skill that made 2011’s Warrior such an excellent film, and even with all of the narrative problems, there’s a glimmer of that magic in The Accountant, too.
Clearly intended to be a franchise-starter, The Accountant isn’t a complete enough package to make a sequel feel necessary, despite a very memorable performance from Affleck. Like so many other good action thrillers, it’s an entertaining adventure that you shouldn’t dwell on for too long. Simply enjoy it for the dramatic rollercoaster that it is.
The Accountant is exciting, tense, and offers enough interesting plot twists to keep things lively. It brings just enough quality elements together to compensate for its flaws – paying you back for your time invested with a little extra interest.