For directors, filmmaking is like a puzzle they piece together, but sometimes pieces either are missing or they don’t fit exactly the way they need. Director Gavin O’Connor has all the right pieces for The Accountant, from a lead actor in Ben Affleck, solid supporting actors in J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, and Jon Bernthal, and a fantastic cinematographer. The most important and vital piece that refuses to fit is the script, and while it sometimes works, it just doesn’t want to go in all the way, failing to make The Accountant a masterwork.
Written by Bill Dubuque and directed by O’Connor, The Accountant is about Christian Wolff (Affleck), an introverted, autistic man gifted with the ability to do advanced math, but struggles to socialize. When he’s tasked with uncooking the books for a new client, he discovers a thread that unravels, putting people in danger and rising the body count. In the meantime, the Treasury Department lead by Ray King (J.K. Simmons) does everything they can to track Wolff down.
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat.
Ben Affleck has undeniably reemerged as both a solid actor and director. This remains to be true in The Accountant. In his prior work (The Town, Argo, Gone Girl), as he dug himself out of a bad reputation hole, Affleck proved he could be a strong leading man, but he didn’t have to step too much outside of his normal persona. In The Accountant, he stretches his acting muscles by playing an autistic man. While I’m no expert on autism, I can say within my limited knowledge that his portrayal felt both authentic and accurate.
Even when his character is socially awkward and removed, Affleck does a great job of making the character charming, relatable, and empathetic. It is so easy follow him around and enjoy watching his character unfold and grow. This is important for a complex main character with a lot of flaws, and one that kills many people without remorse or emotion. Without Affleck bringing this character to life, it’s safe to say the movie would instantly be dead in the water. For their part, J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, and Jon Bernthal all play wonderful supporting roles, and bring you exactly what you might expect from each of them with various nuances. What brings it all together, however, is Affleck.
O’Connor has a sketchy body of directorial work, but his work on the mixed martial arts drama Warrior raised a lot of heads and put him back on the map for directors to watch. With that said, he continues to impress with The Accountant. Teaming up with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, he created a solid, clean, and at times visceral tone with a great eye for visual storytelling. He builds tension by keeping the action off camera, instead focusing on close up shots and relying on sound to make you wonder what might be around the corner. He also shows a tremendous amount of patience, building one piece at a time and making sure the scenes interlock and make sense. When there is action, he knows how to bring the audience into the heat of it all and bring them to the edge of their seat.
The Accountant’s writing is equally intellectually stimulating, exciting, and frustrating. For an action-thriller, the amount of time and detail taken to flesh out the characters, especially Ben Affleck’s character, is commendable and well done. Piece by piece Wolff’s character unfolds through meticulous and well crafted storytelling. You also get little pieces from the supporting characters as well. By understanding who Wolff is, you can relate to his flaws and empathize. Without that, The Accountant would just be another Jason Statham action movie. By giving such great detail into all these characters’ lives it sets it above the other stereotypical action-thrillers.
The plot and storyline also dares to be different. It makes choices you don’t expect and ignores the tropes and cliches in the action-thriller genre. That, however, is where some might want to get of the bus. Because it wants to be different, some of those choices might not sit well with the average viewer. For instance, this is not a morality play where the main character is without sin. The climax is also different than what you might expect and while it’s satisfying, it might unsettle some.
For a script that seems to want to tell a well-crafted thriller, it’s frustrating that it falls back on heavy exposition and on-the-nose dialogue. J.K. Simmons character gives a drawn out monologue that tries your patience and some of the other characters talk about autism like the movies is an infomercial for the disorder. None of these bring the narrative house down, but rather, keeps it from reaching its full potential.
Each year, whenever October comes around, there’s always a movie that sets itself apart from the mediocre lineup of movies. Last year we got Sicario and the year before that, Fury. This year, I’d argue The Accountant is the diamond in the rough film that demands to be seen in theaters. Despite some blemishes in the writing, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that’ll leave you satisfied and potentially wanting more.
Photos courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures