In the best scene of the new drama-cum-action movie The Accountant, Ben Affleck’s titular character walks into his workspace one day to find the numbers scrubbed off his windows and whiteboards, and men carrying boxes of paperwork away.
Affleck’s character, you see, is an accounting genius who has been brought in to find discrepancies in the books of Living Robotics, a cutting-edge prosthetics company run by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow). Low-level bookkeeper Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) noticed some issues, and the company has called in Affleck’s Christian Wolff, the best of the best, to work out where the money has gone.
But just as Wolff is about to uncover the mystery – filling the walls of a meeting room with ten years of numbers a la Matt Damon’s problem solving in Good Will Hunting – he’s given the boot. There’s a conspiracy at foot.
Wolff, by the way, also happens to be autistic – trained by his military father to come to terms with his condition and live a ‘normal’ life, as seen in childhood flashbacks. He just can’t let this go, and needs to solve the accounting problem to set his mind straight.
At this point, I was completely down with The Accountant. For about 45 minutes, it’s a full-fledged accounting movie with some surprisingly rich character development and sensitive handling of Wolff’s condition (throughout the movie, the term ‘autism’ might be mentioned a single time).
Sure, Wolff seems to have some other strange hobbies, like shooting melons with a sniper rifle at impossible distances on the family farm of one of his clients. But the first half of the film sets up a nifty real-world premise that could easily lead to a John Grisham-like thriller (screenwriter Bill Dubuque previously wrote the underrated, also Grisham-like The Judge).
If you’ve seen the trailer for The Accountant, however, you also know that Wolff also happens to be a high-level contract killer who has been photographed with leading figures from the criminal underworld across the globe, and is being pursued by FBI agents played by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson.
And the Living Robotics accounting mess puts both Wolff and Cummings in the crosshairs of another team of assassins, led by a mysterious merc played by Jon Bernthal.
It’s an inherently silly premise, and needlessly overstuffed: an autistic hitman or accountant hitman would have been enough. Or, as the first half of the movie nicely establishes, an autistic accountant. But all three in one package?
The second half of The Accountant becomes something like John Wick: as Wolff takes out wave after wave of mercenary bad guys, the story doesn’t just strain credibility, but completely separates itself from reality.
Still, the movie retains a goofy charm because it takes itself so seriously: another film might lose the audience by letting them know the movie is in on the joke, but director Gavin O’Connor (who made the excellent Warrior) always keeps us in check by never letting on.
And as all the disparate elements come together, The Accountant can’t help but be blissfully entertaining; despite a longish 2+ hour runtime, the movie breezes by without ever losing our attention.
This offbeat, unusual movie received mixed notices from critics but a favorable reaction from general audiences, who turned it into a minor hit in the US. In a season of disappointing adult-themed action movies like Inferno and Jack Reacher 2, The Accountant is easily the best of the lot.