REVIEW: 'The Accountant', a silly but watchable action thriller


“Do you like puzzles?” More than once in The Accountant, someone asks this question, usually referring to the mystery of the movie’s main character, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck). Naturally, the question is also being posed to us, and I’m willing to bet that plenty of moviegoers would say yes. But the fun of a puzzle is the challenge and satisfaction of figuring it out, and it’s always undermined if someone comes along and finishes it for you, or if the solution is revealed to be a bit of a cheat.

In a similar way, for a decent amount of the movie Wolff is a puzzle worth solving – until he isn’t. We’re presented with an outlandish premise that’s just cryptic enough to draw us in, only to have a little too much explained to us. That being said, while The Accountant gives away too many secrets, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) has assembled a strong cast around a pleasantly distracting premise. The movie won’t be remembered as a standout movie of 2016, but it’s far from being a waste of time.

For the first two acts, there’s a lot we don’t know about Wolff, and the film is almost better for it. The character is a paradox: a math savant with high-functioning autism, who works as a top-level forensic accountant, Wolff offers his services to the worst of the worst (drug lords, arms dealers). He then relies on elite combat training, acquired from a regimen imposed by his martinet father, to make sure his clients don’t “deduct” him when the job is done.

Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck as Dana and Christian, who team up to unravel a financial conundrum.

In practice, this characterization means that Wolff comes across as a mix between Will Hunting, Jason Bourne and Mr. Spock, with some autistic mannerisms thrown in. As funny as it may be that two thirds of the character DNA comes from people played by Affleck’s friend and collaborator Matt Damon, it gets harder and harder to believe in Wolff as time goes by. Being scarily good at math is one thing, but does that really extend to black-ops skills? Do the effects of Wolff’s autism (lack of empathy and intellectual prowess) really make him lethal enough to take out an entire squad of mercenaries, as he does in the closing act?

Thankfully, the plot provides enough material to help put the practical questions aside for a while. The action kicks off as Wolff takes on a seemingly benign case, that of a robotics company that appears to be leaking money. However, Wolff’s brisk investigation draws the attention of some sinister forces behind the scenes, and connects him with a decidedly normal accountant named Dana (Anna Kendrick). When Dana’s life is threatened by the people Wolff is looking into, he has to figure out whether he and his gifts should be part of the normal world, or isolated from it.

Kendrick puts her fiery personality and comic timing to good use, relieving some of the tension that would have been unbearable otherwise. We also get some decent contributions from J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor, as well as a surprisingly charismatic turn by Jon Bernthal (Daredevil) as an assassin who shares some history with Wolff. Since Affleck has taken on the unenviable task of playing a character that forces him to suppress the charm that made him a star, The Accountant leans heavily on its supporting cast to remain watchable.

Jon Bernthal as Braxton, whose shadowy employers are on Wolff's trail.

The screenplay, by the relative newcomer Bill Dubuque, trips itself up near the end by over-explaining Wolff’s backstory, a decision that may answer lingering questions but also seems to contradict other parts of the movie. It also largely defuses the sub-plot surrounding the Treasury Department agents (Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) chasing Wolff, leaving the film feeling baggy and in need of a trim.

Flaws aside, The Accountant does take some time here and there to muse (however briefly) on larger concepts. The federal investigators have to wrestle with Wolff’s inconsistent (and overly violent) vigilantism. And through flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood, the movie asks whether it’s better to expose gifted (but vulnerable) people to the harshness of the world, or to set them up in an institution that can carefully guide their development. These interludes don’t redeem the movie’s faults, but they offer some texture that not all action thrillers possess.

As the (surprisingly few) math-decoding scenes in the movie prove, numbers and calculations may seem absolute, but they can be made to tell different stories. Not everything can be reduced to a simple yes or no. So perhaps it’s fitting that The Accountant doesn’t get either a hearty recommendation or an outright condemnation; you may not like the full result of the movie, but you may enjoy some of the ways it’s solved.

The Accountant gets two and a half stars out of four.

Two and a Half Stars

What did you think of Gavin O’Connor’s new movie? Did you get caught up in the premise? Would you want to see a sequel? Or it the concept just too preposterous? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!