Film Review: 'The Accountant'

Titular accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is equally talented with numbers as he is with lethal force. (Warner Bros.)

Titular accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is equally talented with numbers as he is with lethal force. (Warner Bros.)

★★1/2

I've always found the savant character incredibly intriguing. Whether it's painting a masterpiece within seconds, memorizing entire books, or incredible feats of mathematics, it's fascinating to peer inside the mind of a person whose brain is just wired differently. It's humbling to see someone else's brain do what yours can only dream of. (And even then!)

Of course, physiologically speaking, savant syndrome does come with its downsides. But none of that seems to be apparent - or even remotely considered by filmmakers - in The Accountant, where Ben Affleck stars as the numbers guy who knows how to cook the books better than anyone else on the planet. The Gavin O'Connor-directed action/thriller stars out compellingly enough as it lays the groundwork to develop a young Christian Wolff (Seth Lee) into someone much greater; one that can overcome his mental inabilities and surpass any mathematical boundary. There's a certain joy to watching Wolff assemble a jigsaw puzzle - face down, no less - in record time, and see how he is destined for incredible things.

Even more enjoyably, The Accountant flips the script on us as Wolff (now Affleck) uses his mathematical talents to crunch numbers on behalf of criminal organizations. To nobody's surprise, it attracts the attention of the U.S. Treasury Department, and boss Ray King (Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons) enlists the talented Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to help track the man down. What's more, Marybeth has no choice but to help out Ray on the case, as he's got quite the bit of dirt on her background, as it so memorably arises during her interview (and massive props to Simmons and Addai-Robinson for acting the hell out of the scene).

Christian Wolff's romantic subplot with fellow accounting enthusiast Dana (Anna Kendrick hardly adds to the film, with only a touching scene or two. (Warner Bros.)

Christian Wolff's romantic subplot with fellow accounting enthusiast Dana (Anna Kendrick hardly adds to the film, with only a touching scene or two. (Warner Bros.)

In fact, it's because of the contributions of Simmons, Addai-Robinson, and Affleck - with his usual gravitas and presence in acting - that The Accountant, although only enjoyable for a short while, is massively entertaining to start. It's well-acted and cerebral thriller starring a gifted man using his talents for bad, all while the feds are hot on his tail. It's a game of cat and mouse that adds even more intrigue once Wolff signs onto a legitimate robotics company, and when accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) joins the fray.

Yet apparently, a master of numbers is somehow also a master with firearms - he's perhaps the most lethal killer outside of, say, the U.S. armed forces. So once the Feds send their armed men after him, The Accountant quickly spirals downward into a mess of tasteless action sequences and frankly boring plot progression. In short, the movie fails to meet the standards it sets for itself.

The Accountant's senseless dive into needless action is the biggest reason for the movie's huge collapse. (Warner Bros.)

The Accountant's senseless dive into needless action is the biggest reason for the movie's huge collapse. (Warner Bros.)

More than once, Wolff grips with some of the more unusual symptoms of his mind; namely, sitting in a dark room, blasting rock music with a strobe light, popping medication and breaking wooden poles across his shins. While they are peeks into the way Wolff's mind operates when it's not preoccupied with numbers, the scenes are interspersed throughout the movie without regard for what comes before or after it. What should be an excellent device for us to experience Christian's mindset are instead haphazardly sprinkled into the movie, as emotionless as its spurts of action.

Granted, the movie makes a spirited effort to juggle a few moderately interesting subplots. King is a few months away from retiring, and he sees this case as a way to finish his career in a blaze of glory, of sorts. Medina, while on the good guys' side, is constantly under the thumb of King, and the film gives her little dimension beyond that. Cummings gets a romantic subplot with Wolff as well, but their tender scenes, like the action, are inserted at seemingly random times, and thus don't humanize Wolff or portray him as sympathetic man beyond his abilities. These aren't necessarily sins as they are woefully underdeveloped character arcs that hardly engage the viewer. We see a lot, but feel nothing. 

Like the strobe lights in Wolff's bedroom, The Accountant only has brief flashes of brilliance in pinpoint editing, dark cinematography, and the performances of its cast. But never do these parts coalesce into something uniquely memorable - especially needed when the remainder of the film is recycled action material we've seen plenty of times before.

Rated R. 128 minutes.

Written by Bill Dubuque.

Directed by Gavin O'Connor.

Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and J.K. Simmons.

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© 2015 Rex J. Lindeman.   All rights reserved.   |   (760) 274-5948   |   rexlindeman@gmail.com

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