There is hardly a job that conjures up a more mundane and dreary image than that of the chartered accountant, and so, a film with a title like The Accountant sounds like it would be more at in an indie cinema house as an in-depth character study. And perhaps, if you see who plays the lead character you might consider writing it off entirely – it’s Ben Affleck who has been mocked endlessly for his performance this year as Batman in Dawn of Justice (you can find my mocking here). So, my apprehension and expectation of boredom when I walked into the media screening were replace by a pleasant surprise when I walked out. Because that’s exactly what The Accountant is: not what you’d expect.
The film is strangely both action thriller and drama, with a bit of subtle humour thrown in. Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) appears to be an ordinary accountant, working for his own one-man firm. But he has Asperger’s Syndrome which of course (in a bit of a clichéd turn) means he’s a mathematics savant. More than that, he’s an accountant to a number of big villains and criminal syndicates all over the world. No one is better than he at hiding money made from nefarious dealings. “This guy risks his life uncooking the books for some of the scariest people on the planet. Drug cartels. Arms brokers. Money launderers. Assassins… Imagine the secrets this guy has,” says the U.S. Treasury Agent who is hell-bent on catching him.
Ray King (J.K. Simmons) is about to retire. By his own admission he was a rather average member of the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division until he came across Christian, who handed King any clients who tried to betray him, and turning the investigator’s career into a sterling one. Yet, King doesn’t know Wolff’s real name (he keeps changing his identity, using the names of historic maths geniuses as aliases). There are no clear photographs of the accountant. And for his swan song, King would like to take Wolff down.
Christian is a complete anomaly. He’s quiet, neat, and obsessed with everything matching and every problem having a solution. But this introvert is also a martial arts expert (his dad was an asshole who forced his scared, autistic child to fight in order to protect himself). He’s also as good a marksman as any army sniper.
Christian is guided in his illegal ventures by a woman on the phone who is never seen. On her advice he accepts a legitimate audit, after a junior accountant, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), discovers a discrepancy at her company. Christian spends a night going through a decade’s worth of financials, writing on a boardroom’s glass walls with marker pens and finding where money had gone missing. But as soon as that happens, people start dying and he and Dana become targets.
The Accountant is a strange mélange of genres that could have failed miserably, but didn’t. I’m at the point where I want to hate every Ben Affleck film, but the woodenness he struggled to overcome as Batman, in this film becomes a restrained, nuanced portrayal of someone who struggles with social connection and who shows little emotion, despite his desire to reach out to others. Ironic comments, the habit of blowing on his fingers before tackling a task, the way in which has simply HAS to finish a task or lose his mind, his nightly ritual of playing heavy metal while painfully rubbing a bar across his leg – Affleck performs this in a polished, engaging way, with just the right amount of restraint, though don’t expect a rain man.
The film, though far from perfect, attempts to deliver a balance between tense crime solving, fight scenes, and a sensitive exploration of the human psyche of those who fall within the Autism spectrum. Director Gavin O’Connor gets it right more often than not. The story and acting are unexpected and unusual. I felt perplexed at the end, but in a curiously satisfying way.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
Rating: 3½ out of 5
SA release date: 28 October 2016