Like its namesake, “The Accountant” is a very awkward film. It has the A-list cast and handsome, competent direction of a Hollywood prestige picture, but the slight tone and nutty plotting of a B-movie. When critics complain that they don’t make films like this anymore, they really don’t make films like this anymore. But they should. This movie is far more alive than any of the warmed-over leftovers that Hollywood usually serves up every award season.
The premise of the film is pure pulp. Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a genius, autistic, anti-social accountant. He has put his considerable skills to use, un-cooking the books for the world’s wealthiest criminals, dictators and drug dealers. But after the U.S. Treasury gets uncomfortably close to catching him, Christian decides to play things safe and take a steady, legal assignment investigating some financial irregularities within a local consumer electronics firm. But of course, it’s always the ones you least suspect that get you into trouble. And before long, every individual involved in the financial investigation is being hunted down and murdered.
Why are these seemingly innocent people being assassinated? What is the massive conspiracy that this company is trying to cover up? What’s the dark secret in Wolff’s past that led him to transform from a reclusive child to a professional criminal? How does the U.S. Treasury fit into all of this? Who knows! I certainly don’t, and I watched the film. The plot is a convoluted mess – where very few motivations or schemes are ever adequately explained or justified.
But that’s okay. The plot is also basically just an excuse to set up several scenes where Affleck masterfully subverts the trope of the suave secret agent. Christian can effortlessly dispatch a team of hitmen, but he can’t figure out non-verbal cues. If he has something to say, he states it, in as plain and flat a voice as possible. But critically, the film does not pity Christian for this. If he is awkward around people, it’s clear that he also really does not care. In his own way, his bluntness is even charming. And when he’s forced to spend time with a bubbly, loquacious junior accountant – played by human puppy-dog Anna Kendrick – Wolff even becomes lovable. Awkwardly lovable, of course, but that’s the point. How many super-spies unabashedly wear pocket protectors and get excited about the intricacies of profit management?
So I can forgive the plot for being ludicrous. That’s a requirement to enjoying any B-movie. But I cannot forgive the plot for being poorly constructed. Every scene with Kendrick and Affleck crackles with life. So why does the script insist on cutting away from them every few minutes? As amusing as Jon Bernthal is as a gleefully dickish assassin, or J.K. Simmons is as a wry, aging Treasury Agent, or Robert Treveiler is as Christian’s tough-as-nails military dad – none of them are the main character. So we don’t need a separate plot line for all of them.
Especially because they all detract from one of the best performances Affleck has given in years. Regardless of the role assigned to him, Affleck always plays some type of asshole. But like the best leading men, he usually finds a way to make his on-screen persona work, regardless of the context. And this is one of his more stellar examples. His brusque, confrontational behavior completely powers through any of the mawkish sentimentality Hollywood usually employees when portraying neuro-divergent individuals. Wolff is antisocial and brusque, and he has no interest in changing. It’s a fascinating, dedicated performance – and Wolff is one of the most interesting characters in recent memory.
And yet, it’s a shame that this work settles for just interesting, when it could have been profound. Somehow, if someone had just given this work a tighter plot and a stronger sense of tone, we could have had a modern classic on our hands. This could have been a pulse-pounding thrill ride, with dashes of idiosyncratic morbid humor. It could have been great. Instead, it’s merely good.
Contact Raymond Maspons at [email protected]