Ben Affleck has had a rollercoaster ride of a Hollywood career. He became a massive star in the late 90s, riding the wave of success from movies like Good Will Hunting, Armageddon, and Chasing Amy. He had his fair share of bombs and disappointments during that time as well, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that things took a turn, there was a Ben Affleck market saturation, and the movie-going public fell out of love with him. Sure, Gigli was a part of it, but it wasn’t the only part. Part of it was also the failure of Daredevil and other action movies and thrillers that he was the lead on. Affleck went quiet for a few years and rebuilt his reputation through smaller roles and also moving behind the camera, beginning with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and culminating with a Best Director Oscar for 2012’s Argo. The roles also came back to him in the form of State of Play, Gone Girl and getting the cowl and cape for Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. All of this is to say that 2016 has been a slight regression to the status quo for Affleck. BvS was no great shakes, and The Accountant is only an adequate action thriller.
There have been a lot of assassin movies and a lot of variations on them in recent years. Given the divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Mr. & Mrs. Smith comes immediately to mind. The Accountant is the autistic assassin movie we didn’t know that we needed. Christian Wolff (Affleck), is a mild-mannered, boring-as-dried paint accountant at a nondescript accounting office in a strip mall in middle America. His work there, though, is merely a cover for his actual work, which is using his considerable skills as a math savant to uncook the books for wealth clients. Supported by a mysterious contact/handler named Justine, his past has required that he get his hands dirty with the other considerable skills he acquired while growing up on the move with a brother and a military father. His work has also drawn the attention of Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) in the Treasury Department, who puts a young analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) on the case of finding out the identity of the man King only knows as “The Accountant.” Christian’s current job looking into the financials of a wealthy robotics company owned by Lamar Black (John Lithgow), bring him into contact with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), a young accountant working for the company who found discrepancies. Christian investigates the numbers looking for embezzlement, and the resulting discovery of $61 million being embezzled puts himself and Dana in the crosshairs of a mysterious man known as “The Assassin” (Jon Berthnal).
This is far from a bad film, but it is also not close to being great either. It exists in this muddled middle of mediocrity; films that are time fillers but don’t move the needle one way or the other. The story is about as generic and predictable as they come. Even though it is generic, there are a handful of moments that are good and worth a chuckle, but again, that is part of being generic. Some of the best are between Affleck and Kendrick, who is work quite well together. I’m a big fan of Kendrick, as she feels pretty natural in just about every role I’ve seen her in, and it’s no different here.
There is a twist involving one character that is pretty obvious a mile away just from paying attention to the information or lack of information being given about the character. It was almost comical in the moment when the reveal occurs because it took so long to get there and it was treated with such importance even though it was so obvious and telegraphed.
What hampers the film most is the autism aspect of Affleck’s character; it’s a double edged sword. This is the great downfall of many TV shows in the last few years, the perceived need to give a main character a gimmick, as it were. There have been quite a few characters in movies and TV who are “somewhere on the spectrum” in the last few years, and some of those have been done quite well (Community, The Bridge, and Sherlock come to mind). It’s always great to include more diverse characters and draw from a broader pool of storytelling. But autism is tough pull off, and if it’s not done right it can come across quite badly.
Affleck does his best. Christian comes across as a character who has a definite emphasis on the “functioning” part of “high-functioning.” Routine is clearly important to him. There is a deliberateness that is a necessity to his character that comes across in Affleck’s performance. But there are also moments when practically nothing is coming across in Affleck’s face and in his performance. There are moments when it seemed like Christian was the Simple Jack character that Ben Stiller’s Tugg Speedman portrayed in Tropic Thunder, and that is clearly not what they intended. Which then makes it more difficult to go from that to his character acting like Jason Bourne 15 minutes later.
The Accountant is a middle of the road action thriller that wants you to believe it is about 20% more intelligent than it really is just because it gave its main character a unique trait. But that is not enough. I like a lot of the people involved in this film. Director Gavin O’Connor has made some films that I really enjoy (Warrior, Miracle). But this is a forgettable piece that will probably be lost in the shuffle. To borrow from the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey, a Benaissance, to what extent there may have been one, is effectively over in the wake of the 2016. That is not to say that we are back to Affleck falling out of favor with the movie-going public like what happened back in the early 2000s, but the roles he is taking have regressed back to the mean a bit. He has made an interesting 2nd act for himself and has clearly learned from his earlier experiences, so I’m not worried that he will fall of the map anytime soon. The Accountant is not another Gigli-level event. It’s closer to Reindeer Games or The Sum of All Fears. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not the end of the world.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars