By Nathan Evans
As I touched on with last week’s review, ‘The Girl on the Train’, I try to remain objective when I review a film. Usually this isn’t a problem, because my objective view and my personal view tend to align, but sometimes there’s a disparity. Sometimes a film is objectively better than how I feel about it personally, which is fine, but I’m more intrigued by films that work in the opposite direction; ‘The Accountant’ is one of those films.
Personally, this is the type of film I tend to like: an action picture with something on its mind. It stars a host of triple A talent in front of the camera as well as an accomplished director behind it in Gavin O’Connor; the atmosphere is dark and moody, and the film remains intriguing throughout most of its runtime. Unfortunately, by the time the dust settles and the film ends, you’re forced to actually stop and think about what you just witnessed and when that happens the film falls apart like a deck of cards. Personally, I don’t much care. Objectively, it’s another story.
‘The Accountant’ stars Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff; a high functioning autistic man who’s also a mathematical genius. As a young man, Wolff’s father, a colonel in the military who feared the world would take advantage of his son, trained Christian to become a combat expert. In the modern day, Christian uses his skills to provide forensic financial services to various black market dealers and to stay alive while doing it. Though he works for the bad guys, he uses his ill-gotten gains to help those less fortunate than him through his local front of an accounting firm. Hoping to lie low for awhile, Christian takes a job at a prominent robotics company headed by CEO Lamar Black (John Lithgow) to track down what happened to a sizable chunk of money that went missing. He’s aided in his efforts by attractive, young corporate accountant, Dana Cummings (the always charming Anna Kendrick).
As Christian and Dana draw closer to figuring out what happened to the cash, prominent members of the company are killed off by a mysterious, arrogant hitman portrayed by ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Daredevil’s’ Jon Bernthal. Christian and Dana quickly become the hitman’s next target, so they go on the run together to figure out who’s behind the missing cash and the target on their heads.
Clearly ‘The Accountant’s’ narrative is overstuffed, and its nonlinear form of storytelling is more confusing than it is intriguing. The idea of an autistic hitman is an interesting one and in and of itself would’ve been enough to carry a film, but screenwriter Bill Dubuque is intent on throwing everything against the wall and letting it all stick. As a result the robotics firm conspiracy seems frivolous and is all but abandoned by the end of the film anyway for a twist of a subplot that’s telegraphed a mile ahead of time. The talented cast that make up the film’s supporting players are all almost entirely unnecessary. Jeffrey Tambor’s aging black market money man and John Lithgow are completely wasted, and J.K. Simmons crusty treasury agent and his young protege portrayed by ‘Arrow’s’ Cynthia Addai-Robinson come across as a useless tangent.
Given Christian’s disability, his origins are even more dense than your usual action film protagonist’s, and the film is set on juggling that subject as well; though, disappointingly, how he managed to overcome the tics and social hurdles caused by autism are ultimately not addressed. With that said, the representation of autism on display in the film is spot on. As the father of a young girl living with autism, I’ve grown quite familiar with the symptoms and the way the film portrays them is (mostly) sensitive and accurate. It’s obvious that someone behind the film is familiar with the subject, and Affleck clearly did his homework. Despite the overall quality of the film, this is one of his personal best performances. The bouts of stimming (physical tics those with autism display in order to calm themselves down) he experiences and frustrations he goes through when things don’t go exactly the way he expected them to is subtle and believable; and the film uses his social difficulties for a few good natured bits of surprise humor.
Anna Kendrick is of course also good here, but unfortunately her chemistry with Affleck isn’t believable. Not only is Affleck nearly fifteen years older than her, but her diminutive stature is even more exaggerated beside his hulking figure. Of course his character’s disability makes it extra difficult for an authentic chemistry to exist in the first place, but the casting here doesn’t help matters.
The action sequences in the film are well choreographed, but lack ambition. When they happen they’re consistently entertaining, but there’s nothing here that compares with last years ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ or this past summer’s excellent ‘Jason Bourne’. I found myself wishing that Wolff’s autistic tendencies would incorporate themselves more in the way he fights. It feels like a missed opportunity to capitalize on the film’s premise.
When the film finally does comment on its premise by the end, the message is confusing. They seem to fall on the correct sentiment that those with autism aren’t inferior, just different, but also seem to allude that their particular brand of learning would lend itself well to contract killing. An odd message to say the least, and one that points to the real problem with the core of the movie: while he is our protagonist, Christian isn’t a hero; really he’s kind of a bad guy. It would be nice to have an autistic hero that people could look up to, but it’s something the film doesn’t seem to want to give us; it’s a point the film can’t ultimately be faulted for, but one I can’t help but feel let down by anyway.
Overall ‘The Accountant’ is an over ambitious mess that starts well, but eventually crumbles under the weight of too many plot lines, supported by too much hammy dialogue. The film’s edited in a scattershot manner that serves to make its too dense plot even more confusing and slows the film to a crawl near the end. That is my objective take.
My personal take is that the film is quite fun, I like how it portrays autism as a gift that can turn a person from a regular joe to a badass, and I love it’s dark tone and solid action sequences. So, since the gulf between my personal viewpoint and objective one is so wide, ‘The Accountant’ is going to be the first film nerdonfilm.com gives two official ratings to. If you, the reader, aren’t particularly inclined toward action films, go with the objective rating. If you enjoy action films no matter how dopey they can be, or know or are someone diagnosed with autism, go with the personal one. Much like the film itself, this review isn’t going to choose what to tell you.
OBJECTIVE RATING: 2.5 OUT OF 5
PERSONAL RATING: 4 OUT OF 5