Overall, The Accountant is a solid, entertaining film with moments that elevate the story into something special. The concept is what will get most of the good will from audiences. There is something marvelous about seeing the most challenged among us excelling to become some of the best of us – at least in specific fields. Sometimes that field is math. Other times that field is murder. In this film, it’s both. Unfortunately, what could have been a very interesting character study about an autistic hitman is reduced to a mostly cliché action thriller. It’s not bad, but audiences can easily see where The Accountant should have been better.
Christian (Ben Affleck) is a high functioning autistic mathematics savant. Various sensitivities to flashing light, loud sounds, and textures cause him to lash out in violent ways. Christian’s mother abandons the family, unable to cope with his behavior, leaving Christian and his younger brother to be raised by his strict military father, who helps desensitize Christian to his triggers. He and his brother also learn various skills, like martial arts, to protect themselves from the dangers of the world. Flash forward 30 years later and Christian has become the go-to accountant for various dangerous organizations around the world. This has made him a person of interest by the United States government. To lower his heat, Christian takes on a legitimate client who needs a talented accountant to find a large sum of missing money over 15 years of financial records. Unfortunately, Christian discovers that even organizations on the straight and narrow are willing to go off course and have people killed when millions of dollars are on the line.
The immediate charm of the film is Christian and his emotional blindness. It’s one thing to have a character who purposefully does not uphold the social contract of interpersonal niceties; it’s quite another thing to have a character that doesn’t know how to uphold the social contract, but tries to anyway. When Christian’s office assistant suggests he meet her daughter, he replies with a canned “nice to see you” before closing the door abruptly. Later, after killing a hitman in front of bystanders, Christian gives a friendly wave because he doesn’t naturally understand what is appropriate in that situation. Those are short-lived complex moments that audiences will immediately understand in personal ways, and it’s a shame that the film didn’t offer more of that.
The story is missing some details, and it feels like much was cut from the film for time. While the movie allows for some of Christian’s history, it glosses over a crucial point, which is why he decided to become a criminal accountant. Then, later in the film, the story tries to fill in some gaps with a long winded exposition from one of the US Treasury agents (J.K. Simmons) who’s tracking Christian. The movie presents this part as something poignant, but it’s difficult to make sense of it or how it applies to the story at large when the details are out of context and are being told instead of shown. Even the main conflict feels haphazard. It’s difficult to understand why the villain and the villain’s hired gun (Jon Bernthal) do what they do. Some deaths simply feel questionable from a character standpoint.
The action doesn’t last long, but it’s mostly satisfying. There are moments that feel unique in their violence, like when Christian takes out some bad guys with a high-powered rifle. Bullets penetrate their targets before the sound of the shot can be heard, which feels nothing short of realistic. Later, when a group is suppressed inside a home by sustained sniper fire, the constant contact of high-caliber ammunition is unnerving in a way that most films fail to achieve. The action does eventually devolve into a Hollywood cliché of “one man versus many, one at a time” but it isn’t bad. The filming of that sequence, however, isn’t good. The final action set piece takes place inside a darkened home and is presented to the audience by a very shaky camera. At one point, the villain turns to his hired gun watching the carnage on monitors and asks, “What’s going on?” He unwittingly asks the question on every viewer’s mind.
The biggest disappointments in The Accountant are its concessions to Hollywood. Anna Kendrick’s character, Dana, is absolutely unnecessary to the film except to be a romantic interest for Christian. Unfortunately, her existence does not affect the plot at all, which is evidenced when she disappears for a good portion of the film and no one misses her. Later, audiences discover that Christian and an adversary have a long history with each other, but which also raises more questions. In the end, the film also makes a final revelation regarding Christian’s mysterious partner who he converses with throughout the movie. While some audiences may find these reveals clever, just as many will feel like everything wrapped up a little too neatly too quickly, which is something that only happens in a Hollywood movie.
All of the criticisms notwithstanding, The Accountant is an enjoyable, albeit imbalanced, movie. It has an interesting main character, acceptable action, and an adequate plot. It’s doubtful that anyone will watch this film more than once, but that single viewing won’t be a waste of time, either.