(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.)
There haven’t been very many Hollywood heroes like the one that “The Accountant” offers. Then again, Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Christian Wolff – an autistic bookkeeper-Terminator figure – could hardly be called a hero.
Nonetheless, the film displays the disorder as a strength, not just in Wolff, but in others. Our differences should be celebrated and embraced, “The Accountant” argues. Individuals with autism have as much to offer the world as anyone else.
It’s an appropriate message, one not explored in contemporary film as much as it should, let alone in action thrillers like the one brought to us by director Gavin O’Connor.
Unfortunately, the film turns what could have been an in-depth exploration of a misunderstood disorder into a gimmick, one of a myriad over narratives that are part of an overstuffed, overambitious plot that is as varied in tone as it is tough to follow.
“The Accountant” has enough material for three movies, or even a short season of binge watch-worhty TV. There are so many moving parts involved that are easy to forget about, even though they are all interconnected in a complex web of…stuff that happens on-screen. It feels like a first cut of a film rather than a finished product, resulting in a two-hour affair that feels more like four.
At its core is Christian, whose affinity for being thorough leads him to success as someone who helps clean up finances. At least, that’s all he seems to do on the surface.
The film is its most engaging when it focuses on Christian in the first half hour of the film – his routine at work, his subdued nature (in an interesting, decidedly non-Affleck performance by Affleck), his daily dose of curated self-therapy he utilizes to live with autism.
It all works to a point, especially in tandem with the film’s start that covers a young Christian’s relationship with his parents and brother. It’s when Wolff is hired to help find the financial holes in the books of a robotics company that deals in the millions of dollars instead of hundreds that the film’s narrative begins to get muddled.
Over its runtime, “The Accountant” leaves the audience in the dark at so many frustrating points, not the least of which in the way it tries to connect every piece of its ensemble of characters to each other.
There’s an admirable attempt to create a deeply layered story, and even glimpses of what could have been a very memorable work had much of its excess been stripped away. Most narratives are a means to an end, many of them laughably disposable.
The film almost knows it too, utilizing sound and fury at some of the most opportune moments to break up the lifeless, obfuscated hodge-podge of plotlines.
Affleck and most of the supporting cast is acceptable enough, though Anna Kendrick looks out of her element here, to the point that “The Accountant” seems like a totally different movie when she’s on-screen. This could be the darkest fare she’s been involved with in her career, and she does what she can for the role, but she’s simply miscast.
There’s a good film somewhere in “The Accountant,” perhaps even a great one that touches on the impact of autism on families over a number of years. But the audience shouldn’t be asked to seek out and fit those pieces together, in a piece so thematically and stylistically jumbled.
“The Accountant” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
Directed by Gavin O’Connor