The Accountant (2016) [IMDB]
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
In 2016, Hollywood has continued to labour under a pall of familiarity. Ever in search of "sure things", the big studios have doubled-down once again on sequels, remakes, reboots, "re-imaginings", and spin-offs. Where something new is promised - as with, say, Doctor Strange - we're often left disappointed. That's where The Accountant comes in: a genuinely somewhat novel, if flawed, thriller which serves as a breath of fresh air.
Ben "Batfleck" Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic accountant who leads two parallel lives. In one, he provides banal advice to ordinary Joes in rural Illinois, working out of his own practice in an anonymous strip mall. In the other, he hires himself out as a financial fixer for feared criminal cartels around the world - his missions arranged by the mysterious "Voice". The story really begins when Wolff chooses to take on a job for a seemingly legit enterprise: an advanced prosthetics concern owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow).
There's no getting away from the fact that The Accountant is really quite complicated. This isn't so much to do with Wolff's actual task at hand, but is more due to a ton of flashbacks, incidental details, minor characters, and subplots. All of this serves a purpose, wraps up smoothly in the end, and reflects the complexity of Wolff's work - but it's still arguable that the film could have benefited from simplification and shortening. It's a reflection of the film's unusual approach that female lead Anna Kendrick plays a character who is relatively incidental to the story: but engaging, funny and likeable all the same.
The film has already generated polarised views about it's treatment of autism, but for my money Affleck's performance is not only excellent but also sensitive. There are similarities here with other action and thriller films centred around a very asocial, physically capable character - films like Leon or Unleashed. As in those films, Affleck is (somewhat implausibly) prodigiously skilled in martial arts and firearms. Action isn't the main focus of the film, but it is a draw: the combat here is swift, brutal and surprisingly well-shot. Only a couple of overly dark scenes keep us from appreciating the action design, and Affleck absolutely looks the part.
The Accountant is an odd proposition. It delves deeply into the practical working of things, but is inherently fantastical and far-fetched. It's rich with incidental detail, but the main thrust of the plot is almost too straightforward. And it's a careful character study that looks the challenging subject of autism head on and a violent, gritty thriller. In short, it's really unlike anything that has gone into cinemas this year, and while that is almost recommendation enough, the film has plentiful charms of its own - including a fine cast, crisp direction, and smart, amusing dialogue. Why Affleck wanted to be Batman is beyond me: but at the risk of starting another endless franchise, I could definitely contemplate seeing Christian Wolff in action again.