The Accountant ***
Directed by Gavin O’Connor; screenplay by Bill Dubuque
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow
127’; USA 2016.
Christian Wolff is a brilliant mathematician who puts his extraordinary capabilities at the service of quite suspicious customers, including drug cartels and dangerous criminal organizations. Ray King, head of the anti-crime division of the United States Department of the Treasury, decided to flush him out, but his traces are revealed to be very difficult to follow. Meanwhile, Christian has agreed to trace a shortfall identified by an employee in the accounting department of a large robotics company — an assignment that could endanger his life. Christian, however, is not only a mathematical genius …
A curious mix of movie genres – the problematic genius as in A Beautiful Mind, and action thriller — The Accountant draws its strength from Ben Affleck’s minimalist but convincing interpretation of his role. An actor often accused of poor expressiveness, here he makes such a potential weakness a strength, putting it at the service of a closed and emotionality blocked character.
The film reveals its history through a series of non-linear flashbacks that challenge the viewer to recompose a complex puzzle (like the ones Christian loved as a child) and through the perspectives of different characters. The very complex plot veers in the end to an over-the-top solution, not too believable and at times unintentionally ridiculous.
In the meantime the movie delivers two full hours of good entertainment, making extensive use of the anti-emotional traits of his hero to create disturbing situations or tap into comedy; there is even a possible hint of romance in the relationship between Christian and Dana, the accountant who discovered the shortfall that he must track to its origins.
Between numbers scribbled on glass walls, spectacular mental calculations, linguistic quid pro quos and harrowing emotional blocks, the film also takes full advantage of autism clichés. At the same time it cleverly transforms the handicap of its protagonist into a kind of superpower, so much so that somebody already has likened The Accountant to certain marginal examples of comic book-based movies (and the connection doesn’t sound so crazy, with a protagonist already wearing the cape of the bat-vigilante).
The ease with which the antagonists are dispatched without any sign of remorse is both cartoonish and disturbing (though consistent with the emotional dissociation of the protagonist), having the same efficiency with which calculation errors are eliminated from a budget.
Gavin O’ Connor is a capable director and at ease with action scenes, and has on his side another small breakout movie, Warrior, in which Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are brothers and adversaries in a martial arts competition (here too watch out for the surprises of family relationships); he tightly holds the reins even amidst the most improbable plot twists.
Problematic elements: some violent scenes.