Director: Gavin O’Connor
Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
The Accountant is a bad film. Which is a rather concise, damning statement. But wait. Because at the same time, it’s one of the most watchable films of the year. That rare breed of peculiar which is exactly the right amount of crazy, stupid and misguided to be genuinely worth checking out so long as you’re prepared for it. You want nonsense? You got it. If only it wasn’t so buttoned down.
It’s a conflicted experience. It seems eager to be thought of as unconventional, gleefully throwing basic tenants of mainstream cinema like structure and pacing out of the window, yet is also one of the most earnestly conformist pictures of the year. It’s as though writer Bill Dubuque and director Gavin O’Connor have seen popular thrillers, dreamed for years of putting one out themselves… and then wholeheartedly misunderstood how to assemble one.
So on the one hand it wants to surprise you, wrong-foot you with shock revelations or unexpected connections. On the other, it doesn’t have the requisite ideas and, what’s more, seems terrified that it’s audience might miss something, so laboriously explains itself, frequently tipping it’s hand to soon. Structurally its a mess, cluttered with unnecessary, clumsily staged and often terrible flashbacks. Dubuque’s screenplay sees no problem in stopping everything mid-flow in the third act for 15 minutes of muddled exposition doled out by a man sitting on a sofa with a hat over his eyes. And this isn’t an isolated incident. The Accountant has no momentum, and frequently takes steps to actively hobble itself. An hour in and you’re still not convinced what it’s actually about yet…
Ben Affleck plays the titular numbers man going by the name Christian Wolff. He works out of a small strip-mall operation, but lives a more comfortable, yet paranoid life. Those cumbersome flashbacks have already tipped us off that there is more to him than meets the eye. See also exposition man J.K. Simmons. Wolff has high-functioning autism which, as per Hollywood lore, makes him a maths prodigy who can kill mercilessly. If that caricature offends you, best step away. The Accountant displays all the subtly of a thermos flask to the face.
Hired to even out the books at a robotics company, Wolff is partnered with junior employee Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick). He finds the irregularities with his A Beautiful Mind routine, but an unforeseen loss to the business sees him taken off the clock before he’s finished. And Wolff likes to finish things. At night he plays loud music and hits himself with a pipe. I’m not sure why.
Elsewhere, a treasury agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is trying to suss out just who he is and where he came from because he’s also a global terrorist and drug kingpin sympathiser / exterminator (don’t worry though because there’s nothing more on that later) and then there’s Jay Bernthal’s renegade bad boy, skulking around in the fringes of this messy narrative with his crew of mercenaries threatening inconsequential characters and taking out others because, well, reasons. And in amongst this are all those flashbacks, dutifully dropping excuses for why Wolff can do whatever the script demands of him next. Martial arts expert? Better explain how that happened, etc.
The Accountant plods through this with a strange diffidence that suggests it’s creators are making it all up as they go along. Visually bland and tonally all over the shop, it takes itself far, far too seriously – we’re talking The Counsellor serious – yet happily plays Wolff’s autism for laughs when it can. And it doesn’t really have a thing to say about anything. Under normal circumstances this would be a quick two-star recommendation to avoid…
But this isn’t that review.
Because damn if the cast don’t play this garbage like it’s the best thing they ever read. And what a cast! Okay, let Affleck out of the doghouse (remember #notyourfaultBen?). He does the brooding, confused and clueless routine required here and he sells it reasonably well, seeing as high-functioning autism is supposed to read as android-in-an-Alien-movie. Kendrick provides much-needed warmth and charm as Cummings, and the film is frequently at it’s best when it lets these two play together. Too bad she is unceremoniously dumped by the narrative halfway through. J.K. Simmons phones it in for the most part, but then J.K. Simmons phoning it in is most other players on their A game.
But then the names keep coming. John Lithgow is in this! And Jeffrey Tambor! Look, there’s Jean Smart! What the hell is going on? Does Gavin O’Connor have something on all of these people? Nevertheless, here they all are and they’re kicking The Accountant up a notch where it’s creators summarily fail to do so. Tambor appears to have been cast because, well, didn’t he play a prison inmate on that hit TV show one time? He has three scenes here. And only one of them has dialogue. The most credit really must go to Affleck, however, who seems slightly keyed in to the film’s ridiculous potential, even if O’Connor does his best to keep everything as subdued as possible.
That is until the last twenty minutes when, of course, it shifts gears and turns into John Wick (something it gives a little taster of around the halfway point in a sequence which gives Kendrick a great moment with the lid from a toilet cistern).
And you know what? Despite this stop/start approach to chronology, editing, plotting, pacing and basic sense, The Accountant is ridiculously watchable. Trash of the highest order, but go with it and you’ll be wolfing back the popcorn like nobody’s business.
In better suited hands it could’ve been marvellous. Let Adam Wingard take the shears to it and you could’ve ended up with something like The Guest. Or allow David Fincher to rigorously re-write everything (why did Wolff spend time in jail again?) and this could’ve been golden. Instead we have this oddly saddled donkey of a movie; lovable in a strange way because it’s just so shoddy. 2016 hasn’t really had any so-bad-it’s-good movies. Until now.