Far too many movies play it safe. We have our good guys and our bad guys, they fight, there’s resolve, next movie. The Accountant is NOT one of those movies. Though there are some areas to be commended here, The Accountant swings the pendulum way too far in the other direction. Every single character has a goofy motivation, a subplot, and some ridiculous connection to the main character. What could have been a more straight forward action film ends up being a confused mess.
Directed by Gavin O’Conner, The Accountant tells the story of Christian Wolf (Ben Affleck), an autistic man who has directed his OCD-nature towards good to do some financial consulting and (you guessed it) accounting (there is an amazing montage of Ben Affleck doing some accounting in this movie). Due to his extremely efficient mode of operation, he also works for various drug lords and criminals, assisting them in their messy bookkeeping. This line of work, along with a tough upbringing, has lead him not only be successful with the numbers, but at being an efficient killing machine.
The plot introduces us to a wide array of supporting characters. Here we can see that, in its premise, The Accountant can work as a crime/action thriller with an interesting protagonist (comparing this to something like The Town, we see The Accountant’s lost potential). We have a Tech CEO who is investigating some shady business in his company (John Lithgow), we have Affleck’s prison mate who introduces him to the black market potential of accounting (Jeffrey Tambour), we have the detective who is chasing our man down before he retires (J.K. Simmons), and we have (I really hate to say this, but consider it a knock against the screenplay) the girl character (Anna Kendrick). This is a tightly knit group of characters, they fall on both sides of the law. This is the perfect setup for a good movie, but the screenplay (written by Bill Dubuque) overstays its welcome, stuffing the plot with way too much superfluous material.
I’ll say this, the first half of the film really worked for me. There is a very The Social Network aspect to this film, it is entertaining to watch someone be really efficient at their specific line of work. This goes for both the accounting and the killing. Early in the movie we are treated to some great action scenes, the film does a great job informing us who this guy is and what he is capable of. As we introduce the supporting cast, the plot thickened and I started to grow a little confused. But that’s ok! The beginning of a movie is allowed to confuse you. Themes are being introduced, we are learning about this world, and questions are being asked.
What is not ok is for a film to ask a bunch of questions only to fail in answering them. Even worse, and this may be The Accountant’s biggest sin, is to answer questions that were never asked in the first place. The movie splits its time in the beginning with really strange scenes where characters’ motivations are shown (these scenes will ONLY work if they pay off in the end) or at the end where we have a climax that is resolving a conflict that was introduced only a few scenes before.
The movie tries to do so much and really fails at most of it. All of the characters just have to have some connection to our main character, no matter how strained the relationship. The Accountant desperately wants to be like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, there are some “twists” (using that word loosely here) that are meant to stun the audience. Unfortunately, these reveals have one of two results. One, we don’t care because we didn’t have enough time with that character to become invested in that development. Two, and this is in reference to the big “twist” in the film, the revelation is something so easily predictable that we all just roll our eyes when it happens.
Reading this, you might think I’m spending too much time on the side characters for a film that is titled for one person, but that is by design of the film. Don’t get me wrong, Affleck’s character here is the best part of the film. The film has a message about how we can be more understanding of individuals with autism, and Affleck does a good job bringing that message to life in his performance. Again, the action in the film is great, and our main character is a pretty badass hero. It’s just too bad he’s bogged down by subplot after subplot (remember, these subplots are either introduced and forgotten, or they come out of nowhere in the third act, disappointing in both cases).
I’ve focused mainly on the unnecessary subplots as a slight against the film, but even our main storyline has problems. We have a few too many flashbacks to Affleck growing up with autism in an Army family and a needlessly confusing money laundering plot that is meant to thrust us through the narrative. We don’t care about these things, and so we don’t care about them being resolved. It’s hard to watch something like this when you know there are some good ideas in there. The execution is what leaves much to be desired.
So while all of these performances are great and O’Conner’s direction is good all around, the screenplay and film as a whole are wildly disappointing. Less is more could have really worked here: keep it lean, keep it simple (again, I keep thinking back to the excellent The Town as a point of comparison). Unfortunately, The Accountant not only wants to have its cake and eat it too, it wants to go shopping for ingredients and bake the cake and deliver the cake and bring a tray of cookies as well. While there are good intentions here (the core message is important), this one is an overall disappointment.
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