2016, R, 128 min. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Seth Lee, Robert Treveiler, Alison Wright.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 14, 2016
Conceptually, The Accountant kills it, but in terms of execution, The Accountant doesn’t add up.
Christian Wolff (Affleck), one of the many aliases assumed by the story’s titular accountant, is a math savant-cum-assassin. Although he is on the autism spectrum, Wolff is a high-functioning individual. Among the movie’s numerous narrative strands is a series of flashbacks to his early upbringing during which his militaristic father (Treveiler) had his perplexing son schooled in the martial arts in order to provide the boy with self-protection from life’s inevitable bullies, as well as a stint in Leavenworth as the cellmate of a former accountant for the mob (Tambor), who schools him in black money arts and practices. Affleck (finally nailing the math savant role given to his co-star Matt Damon in their breakout movie Good Will Hunting) fluidly hits all the character’s notes: socially inept nerd, aloof and obsessive autistic adult, and precision-coiled and affectless killer. Wolff is an interesting character, but the movie undoes itself with its various plotlines and frequent but conventional shoot-outs.
The story strands come together in the end, but until that point they feel like related but unconnected threads that are tied up with a ta-dah flourish by screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge). Wolff’s business, the curiously named ZZZ Accounting, is housed in a nondescript strip mall south of Chicago. He’s been told by the unseen voice that gives him his assignments (à la Charlie’s Angels) that he needs to cool his criminal trail for a while and take a standard job as a forensic accountant for the cutting-edge electronics firm Living Robotics, which is run by the wealthy scientist Lamar Black (Lithgow) and his sister (Smart). A staff accountant at the firm, Dana Cummings (Kendrick), has discovered a financial discrepancy that needs investigating, a step that launches the motivationally unclear actions of a group of killers (led by Jon Bernthal). Meanwhile, Ray King (Simmons), over in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Enforcement Division, wants to accomplish one thing before his imminent retirement: Discover the identity of the figure known only as “the accountant,” who can be seen in a series of photographs alongside various terrorist leaders and nefarious criminals. In order to do this, he blackmails (in a completely unnecessary bit of plotting) agency underling Marybeth Medina (Addai-Robinson) to uncover the shadowy figure’s identity. Dana, although initially put off by Wolff’s unfriendliness, eventually bonds with him over their shared love of mathematics, and Wolff’s loyalty to her endangers his precise actions. The Accountant has a lot of moving parts and dangling questions, and even though they’re all brought together in the end, they feel disconnected while they are occurring, leaving the movie with a disjointed feel.
Once all the present-tense strands and flashbacks are fully engaged, the film becomes a no-nonsense thriller and little more. The chase is on, lots of gunfire is exchanged, and the puzzle pieces are fully assembled. The nature of Wolff’s masterful but undemonstrative slaughter is remarkable but redundant. The character may not need emotional underpinnings, but the audience may want a better understanding of who Wolff is killing and why. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Miracle) has a good sense of the details that make a character believable, but fails to command the passcode that might keep all the narrative pieces interlocked. While it plays out, The Accountant is often confusing, rather than engagingly baffling. The movie’s sum is less than some of its parts.