Directed by Gavin O'Connor
"I love dogs playing poker. It's funny, because dogs would never bet on anything. It's incongruous."
The Accountant feels like it comes from a different era, from a time of conspiracy themed films, from a time when films were made about unassuming personas hiding in plain sight, hiding something fierce, hiding something dark and single-minded. It feels a little like something that could have starred James Coburn or Steve McQueen or Gene Hackman 45 years ago. Maybe without the autism angle, but an accountant who is also a killing machine? Sure, I'd see that James Coburn movie. Twice. The Accountant feels like it's based on a series of pulp books that came out when book store shelves were filled with Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan novels. That it is completely original only adds to the fun.
And The Accountant is fun. It's fun and surprisingly funny and full of top shelf performances from a roster of some of the top shelf character actors working today. Ben Affleck tones down his charisma and his charm and creates a character that is quiet and compelling and believable and isn't a collection of quirks and twitches and Rain Man mannerisms. Mr. Affleck's Christian Wolff is a man who needs everything to be in its right place, an accountant that is beyond just good with numbers - he's the Gretzky of numbers and math and such. His wardrobe is made up of multiples of the same shirt, same suit, same pants, same t-shirts. His days are spent in an anonymous store front accounting firm stuck in an anonymous strip mall. His home is just another anonymous house set amongst the midwest American landscape. He is someone who needs to finish anything he starts, whether it be a jigsaw puzzle, a freelance accounting job, or to end the life of the people who have wronged his morale code.
The film is like an origin story, the first chapter in a franchise. We see a childhood with a military father who doesn't believe that his son should be protected from the world. The world is loud and dangerous and isn't going to change for his son, he argues, so why shouldn't his son learn to live in the world. The boy and his brother learn martial arts from a master in Indonesia. They learn the value of loyalty, of standing up for yourself. He learns the art of Black Accounting from a bunkmate (Jeffery Tambor) while imprisoned.
Other parts of the back story are conveyed when a Treasury Department director (J.K. Simmons) tasks an analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) with identifying the mysterious accountant, glimpses of him caught on surveillance photos of some of the world's worst people. But even with all of this exposition none of it completely fills in the full picture of our central character. There are many tantalizing threads left dangling. Many answers lead to new questions. Hell, by the end of the film, even his name is in question. Which should be a lesson to anyone looking to create a franchise - make your character an enigma, never answer all of the questions. It keeps the audience curious and it allows them to fill in the missing bits based on what they want, what they desire. It worked to great effect in The Equalizer and John Wick, two of the great franchise starters of the last few years. While The Accountant isn't as great an action film as either of those two, it does a spot on job setting up a series of stories starring a socially strained Ben Affleck calmly shooting people in the head and writing numbers on glass.
The Accountant works best when it's a crime film and actually achieves the near-impossible - accounting as fun. Seeing this character in his true element, surrounded by numbers and papers and boxes, calculating under his breath, mumbling poetry to keep himself on an even keel is where this movie shines. The action bits, for the most part, are fun and well executed. But this film lives and breathes when its star is allowed to just lose himself in the role. Mr. Affleck has always been an underrated actor, always eclipsed by the talents of his friends and his brother. But he really is a great actor, and he is great in The Accountant. His Christian Wolff never becomes a caricature, never becomes Rain Man with guns.
Anna Kendrick's Dana Cummings, an accounting clerk at a tech company Wolff is freelancing for, is so damned good in this film that she feels like a missed opportunity. There is no such thing as too much Anna Kendrick, but in The Accountant we have a problem of seriously not enough Ms Kendrick. I would have gladly given up a bit of bang bang boom for a few more minutes of Ms Kendrick in the film. Watching her try to connect to Wolff, her social awkwardness meeting the wall of his autism, the stress that her continued attempts at simple conversation are giving him invisible to her, is just a damned treat. Yeah, a bit less bang bang boom, more uncomfortable talk about dogs playing poker.
Look, The Accountant isn't perfect - some of the pacing is off and there is an interlude for another character's backstory. But the way that backstory intertwines with the story and informs the story, while a bit clumsy, does come with a great pay off. But overall, the film is exactly what it aspires to be - a film best viewed with an audience and lots of expensive popcorn. It has twists and sure some of them can be seen coming from a few miles away with flashing neon lights screaming into the surrounding darkness, but they're still fun. And the way the twists and turns are handled is actually the very surprising part of the film. The plot points might be expected, their resolution is always surprising. The Accountant may never be as smart as it could have been and it might have been better serviced if it had been directed by its star but it is competent and exciting and never dull. And it's a brave film. It takes a stand on a misunderstood subject, autism, and creates a superhero for the community. Look, The Accountant is the kind of film that says autism doesn't mean you're broken, it means you're different. And it means it.