★★ Directed by Gavin O'Connor Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
The action-thriller The Accountant is a film with high ambitions, wanting to be a smart, mainstream thriller and a serious look at a learning disability. It has divided critics whilst movie fans have been a lot more receptive.
Christian Woolf (Ben Affleck) is a man with high functioning autism and is a maths genius. He is also highly trained in deadly skills like martial arts and sharp shooting due to his army officer father being of the mindset that this would be a better way to deal with his condition. Christian has used his skills to become a forensic accountant for various criminal organisations around the world. The authorities are closing in on Christian, so he takes up a legitimate client, a Chicago based robotics company: but it turns out the 'legitimate' work can be just as dodgy as the mafia families and drug cartels he has served.
It has been quite a year for Ben Affleck, he has starred in two major films that have not been well received but he has been praised for his performances. Playing a character with a condition like autism requests a great skill to do it justice and Affleck manages to do that - he gets the nuances like lack of eye contact, and coming across seemingly emotionless when the reality is he's not sure how to process his emotions. Some humour comes from Christian having no filter - so he has no problem saying things that people find upsetting. Due to his size and physique, Affleck was perfectly convincing in the action sequences.
The Accountant is attempting to be like Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, both focus on a hero with incredible analytical abilities but poor social skills, having their own moral code and being centred around a big conspiracy - showing that industrialists can act like big gangsters. The Bourne series is also an influence on The Accountant because of the flashbacks to Christian's childhood, showing the training he underwent, his troubled home life and his career in the criminal world. Christian also gets his assignments from a mystery British lady over the phone, similar to how Agent 47 receives missions in the Hitman games.
The major problem with The Accountant is it takes itself too seriously - it's a silly premise but wanted to come across as an adult thriller. The Accountant was directed by Gavin O'Connor, a filmmaker who has made some solid movies during his career: Miracle, Pride and Glory and the excellent Warrior being examples, whilst he was able to salvage Jane Got a Gun which was a notoriously troubled production. The Accountant is O'Connor's least interesting film - partly due to the subject manner - financial crime is hard to make compelling on screen. Nor is the film as action-packed as it should be. There are some solid action sequences, the finale sees Christian become like The Professional in Leon and there should have been more. Weirdly the best fight is when an Indonesian martial arts master beats the crap out of two kids.
Another issue is the screenplay: I am going to steal a joke from the video game critic Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw when he reviewed Daikatana: the film was written by a real go-getter, he didn't let his inability to write a story get in the way of him writing a whole bunch of stories. There is too much going on that doesn't even play a major part of the plot: the subplot involving J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Treasury agents were so perfunctory to the events involving Christian that they could have been cut from the film and it wouldn't have made a difference. The dialogue was mostly expository - people explaining information which isn't the making of an interesting thriller. The film comes across as an adaptation to a novel that doesn't exist.
The Accountant has an impressive cast - even if some of them are wasted. Anna Kendrick is her likable self and adorkable as Dana, a junior accountant who first discovers that something sketchy was happening at the robotics firm and grows to like Christian - she's the ordinary person thrown into an extraordinary situation. Jon Bernthal plays an assassin and fixer for various criminal enterprises and there is a twist in his identity that is easy to guess early on. John Lithgow as the head of the robotics company was a standard role that he could play in his sleep.
The Accountant has a great cast and Affleck is shaking off his bad acting reputation, but everyone involved has made much better films in their career. The Accountant is a forgettable entry in their filmographies and 2016's poor slate of thrillers.
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