Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Running Time: 128 mins
Synopsis: Autistic genius Christian Wolff (Affleck) winds up doing accountancy work for some of the most violent gangs in the world, putting him in the sights of a persistent Treasury agent (JK Simmons). To lie low he takes a ‘clean’ job for a robotics firm, however he finds it’s not as safe as he thought.
An action thriller about an Einstein level genius with autistic tendencies but can do martial arts, shoot high powered weaponry and generally kick ass called The Accountant (possibly the most boring title of the year, I get that that’s probably the point but still…) is a tough pitch, and quite frankly should not work. The fact that it’s an original concept and somehow a highly enjoyable thriller should be applauded.
Ben Affleck should take the bulk of that adulation. He is superb with a detailed and gripping central performance. Autism is a hard thing to portray in films, go too far and it comes across as insensitive but here he is spot on. Its all in the little details; the lack of eye contact, the obsessive need to finish tasks, and his finely judged routine are just part of a nuanced performance. Affleck also manages to find the humour within it all. Aided by a darkly witty script from Bill Dubuque, it is surprisingly funny. Most notably in the reactions from Affleck’s fellow cast members at his anti-social behaviour.
The rest of the cast are dependably solid. Anna Kendrick does her usual cute button act. Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow show up as players in the story, each with small but important screentime. Jon Bernthal is in a physical violent role, as per the norm, but a late act (but pretty obvious) twist gives colour to his place in the story. The chemistry between him and Affleck adds a surprising weight to the final moments.
It is JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as the agents on Wolff’s tail suffer from unnecessary material. Always a few steps behind, their story never really interjects with the main thrust. A revelation at the start of the third act attempts to make a connection between Simmons and Affleck, and is delivered with potent emotion by Simmons, but is prefaced with a hefty exposition dump. This overload of story and revelation is only rammed in in order to deliver said emotional moment and as such it undercuts the potency of Simmons’s reaction.
The thrust of the story sees Wolff finding himself knee deep in murky corporation fraud, resulting in men after him and Kendrick. This is when we discover Wolff is in fact a killing machine. Let’s face it, it’s all a little silly. But Affleck is convincing as a non-stop killer, and director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) constructs some muscular brutal fight scenes. Necks break, sinks are smashed on hands and Wolff has a tendency to prefer using one big ass (and loud) gun!
We get frequent flashes to Wolff’s past as well. Discovering a tough childhood, raised by a military dad with a propensity to teach valuable life lessons via having his kids get beaten up. Scenes in a home for mentally challenged kids lack sensationalism and touch on some interesting if familiar ideas of the perception of normality. It is tough to know whether having a tough as nails non-stop killing machine have autism is a wonderful way of breaking down mental stigmatisation or just offensive, but these scenes of dealing with an autistic youngster are delicately handled.
The story isn’t exactly full of surprises, and the romance angle between Kendrick and Affleck is not overly interesting, although the outcome is refreshingly unexpected. The execution is solid if a little thin on personality. But the unique protagonist, and terrific performances mean I’d more than happy to see further stories featuring this character. Although next time, let’s go for a more interesting title please!
Verdict: Decent action, a capable cast, and an interesting lead character cover over some of the stories weak points. The title may put you to sleep but the film has more than enough to stem the snoozing.