There is half of a really good movie in The Accountant. When this smaller-scale thriller takes time to depict the kind of world its protagonist — an autistic man who has channeled his condition into both an amazing capacity for accounting and a deadly capability for assassination, subterfuge, and general spy activities — lives and operates in, it is truly compelling as a character study and a nice change of pace for Ben Affleck, who usually tends towards more traditional film archetypes but does a surprisingly good job with this unorthodox role. Unfortunately, those aspects of the film are buried in a plot that seems quite unfinished, leaving a mixed result at best.
This is a picture that poses an interesting question: would a perceived disability that gives someone an obsessive focus on details and a need to finish everything they start actually help them in an occupation where such attention and follow-through is required? That’s the situation in which Affleck’s character, Christian Wolff, finds himself. As a boy he was diagnosed with a specialized form of autism; and as an adult, his condition has indeed made him quite abled in the real world, both as an accountant who can track money through even the most convoluted organizations; and as a highly trained vigilante and assassin.
Regarding the accounting part, Wolff keeps the financial books for various entities; where his eye for detail and extreme thoroughness have made him highly successful. We first see him operating a small accounting firm in a clever scene where he employs some creative accounting in order to keep a farming couple from going in the red. Additionally, we learn later that Wolff also works with various criminal and terrorist organizations, managing their finances and undermining those that he deems truly evil (though it’s not made clear whether he does this for all of his illicit clients). On a related note, the filmmakers do a respectable job depicting Wolff’s accounting work; rather than getting bogged down in explaining tedious mathematics, they use creative visual demonstrations in order to show how skilled Wolff is, and that is very effective for the movie.
Regarding the vigilante part, in various flashbacks, we learn that Wolff’s father, a military officer, had given him extensive training both as a way to focus his autism as well as to provide a means for him to defend himself in the real world. The result is that Wolff, as an adult, is insanely skilled at hand-t0-hand combat, incredibly deadly with firearms, and can storm a fortified building with seeming ease. It’s definitely an interesting idea that Wolff’s ability to focus on details obsessively has given him something of a superpower. Whether or not that aligns with what autism is actually like, I couldn’t say, but it’s never the less a fresh and interesting approach to the usual one-man-army trope in movies.
The main thrust of this movie involves Wolff investigating a robotics firm, discovering embezzled funds in the process. This makes both him and the woman who first discovered accounting discrepancies (played by Anna Kendrick) the target of assassins. But of course, Wolff is who he is, meaning things won’t go so well for his enemies. There’s a good amount of action in this movie to hold you over, and it’s definitely interesting when the movie shows more of Wolff’s personality (such as the little activities he must do to keep from going insane). On that level, this is an entertaining picture.
Unfortunately, too many aspects of this story feel underdeveloped. The most egregious issue is that Anna Kendrick’s character is barely in this movie, disappearing around the half-way mark and only briefly reappearing at the end; severely stunting the chemistry she was beginning to build with Wolff. It really is as though the filmmakers wanted her to be a love interest and then backed out of it without remembering to actually write her character out of the script. Granted, perhaps the point was to demonstrate that Wolff can’t have healthy romantic relationships, given his condition. Fair enough, but that’s still no excuse for Kendrick’s character simply being dropped in the middle of the story. Her considerable talent as an actress is wasted pretty badly here. Another issue that plagues this picture is that the exact reason for the robotics organization embezzling funds is not given sufficient explanation. What amounts to a sentence worth of justification is provided, but it feels like some necessary elaboration is missing. Lastly, the film tries to cram in a twist at the end involving Wolff’s brother (I won’t describe it; I feel I’ve already spoiled too much) that just seems very strange. I can’t say I liked it.
There’s also a B-story in this picture involving Wolff being tracked down by a treasury officer, played by J.K. Simmons, and an analyst (played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Simmons and Robinson each do well in these roles, and some of the mystery-solving they have to do to find Wolff is clever. Like the main narrative, though, this thread also feels unfinished, with a twist concerning Simmons’s character’s relationship with Wolff that involves a very lengthy information dump to try to make sense of the situation yet still left me confused. It is very, very narratively clumsy.
As I said in the beginning, The Accountant is half of a good movie. It’s well acted, has an appropriate amount of excitement, and the moments that show Wolff, his autism, and how that relates to what he does are all captivating. Alas, poorly executed plot twists, the lack of a compelling villain, and a very underdeveloped romantic interest don’t do the picture any favors; in fact, they detract from it considerably. This could have been a truly great and original spin on the super-spy-thriller genre; instead it is merely okay, one more merely okay picture in a year that has by and large been defined by cinematic mediocrity. Oh well.
That said, I still recommend checking this movie out based on the parts that do work. Despite somewhat sloppy execution, it is still a very unique film, and that’s worth something.