Certain films manage to be worth more than they are, and The Accountant might just be the sort of venture that approaches that territory. It’s a fun flick, with positives that make it worth the ride, but it’s ultimately more interesting as the “working education” of its writer and director.
Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant who works for many of the most notorious people on the planet in a very specialized niche of both the criminal and accountancy worlds. As Treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) explains, criminals are not often balance sheet wizards, and if you suspect someone is cooking the books on your dirty dealings you can’t exactly head to H&R Block to have someone find out.
We get a lot of Wolff’s backstory in the film, mainly focusing on the facts that: he is somewhere on the Autism spectrum, and his dad is a bit of a nutter. The story gets moving when Wolff takes a “legit” job trying to uncover what’s behind some irregularities in the books of a massive tech company that, mostly, makes prosthetic limbs and similar devices.
Our mild-mannered, emotionally blank hero also turns out to be a martial arts expert and a hell of a shot, all the better to live through working with his nefarious clientele.
It’s all a plot that doesn’t especially matter, and part of the way you know this is that the film doesn’t care much about it. It’s an action-filled character examination, similar at a sub-genre level to Bourne films, but The Accountant is more concerned with fitting in surprises than which details are required to do so. More’s the pity, because everything in the film is obvious and telegraphed. Either of those is a flaw, but to have both makes for a real head-scratcher.
The film works incredibly well when it slows down, whether that is by way of the pseudo-narration of Wolff or King, or through the conversations that mostly involve Anna Kendrick. It frequently becomes heavy-handed in a way that wastes a lot of time, but when it lets you enjoy the characters, the effort clicks, and the writing finds a way to pull you into the world of someone nearly impossible to understand.
But, when it moves, it is almost constantly overdoing things, and isn’t aware of the uselessness of its own devices. It feels at times like a book written through an author swap, with each chapter taken over by someone who wasn’t sure where the last author meant to go.
Affleck gives a great turn, delivering a role that could easily go wrong, and doing so with an acutely accurate “accidental deadpan.” His portrayal highlights the small details that make things work, even as the film itself seems to lose interest in them.
How things became lost is anyone’s guess, but what works in the film should have been enough to make something great, and could have with other people behind things. Wolff’s mannerisms, and the complexity of the total package that is his ability to cope with the world make for wonderfully compelling viewing, but the film looks at much of what it wants to deliver too frequently, and without true purpose. The Ray King character becomes accidentally too interesting, and too powerful, because Simmons is just that good, which leaves you wondering what’s happening. Moreover, he ends up the subject of not one, but two “surprises,” adding a level of goofiness to the overall effort, because there’s no sense in the reveals other than to find great merit in surprises for the sake of surprises. Kendrick lands as a misused and mostly abandoned foil, because Wolff has to talk to someone, and offering her up with no other aim to the character sucks the heart out of everything she does.
And on and on. But, all of its shortcomings are fairly easy fixes, and ones that a more experienced hand would have turned into a stellar screenplay/film.
Bill Dubuque, whose only other screenplays are The Judge and The Headhunter’s Calling, still works in enough that goes right, that you can’t help but root for him. You want to see what’s next, because at least it’s an interesting shot in the generally routine world.
It’s a film to watch, even if it will disappoint based on what it will lead you to believe you’re getting. Just don’t expect to anxiously anticipate a sequel.