'The Accountant' Isn’t This Year’s 'John Wick', But It Will Do Nicely
Gavin O'Connor’s action-thriller is a glorious hodgepodge of graphic violence, dark humor, and gaping plot holes.
The Accountant is one of those rarities that succeeds despite an avalanche of flaws that would bury most films. Gavin O'Connor’s action-thriller is a glorious hodgepodge of graphic violence, dark humor, and plot holes big enough to accommodate Donald Trump’s hairpiece collection. Mostly, it’s got a mesmerizing performance from Ben Affleck, who somehow creates a lovable monster with the temperament of Batman and the body count of John Wick. In fact, studios should dispense with the superhero sequels and make John Wick v. The Accountant right now!
There’s a scene about midway through The Accountant in which Christian Wolff (Affleck) brutally dispatches a competing hitman and then waves politely to a pair of horrified onlookers. It’s this odd mixture of brutality and innocence that elevates an otherwise muddled thriller to the lofty perch of guilty pleasures. There’s an audacity to the action that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. We’ve seen ruthless, efficient hitmen before, but no one quite like Christian Wolff.
Christian suffers from a mental condition known as ‘Hollywood autism’, in which sounds and stimulation send him into frenzy until the appropriate symbol (or plot point) settles him down. In this instance, Christian uses the certainty of mathematics to gain the closure that his tortured brain requires. He’s not the first cinematic savant to take refuge in numbers, but it’s hard to imagine A Beautiful Mind's John Nash busting caps and breaking necks.
Screenwriter Bill Dubuque deserves a great deal of the praise and ridicule for this hot mess of a film. He employs an intricate web of flashbacks and convoluted story threads to flesh out Christian’s character. His efforts at layering such a simple premise are admirable and the childhood flashbacks are generally effective, so long as you don’t take things too seriously.
Christian’s dad is certainly a piece of work. A former PSYOPs (Psychological Operations) officer in the Army, Christian’s old man (Robert C. Treveiler) forgoes behavioral therapy and participation awards in favor of karate and hard-assed pragmatism to “cure” his son. “You’re different. Sooner or later, different scares people,” dad warns a young Christian. He loves Christian and his seemingly mute brother, Braxton, but he bought a ten-pound bundle of sticks and threw away the carrots when it came to raising his boys.
Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Pride and Glory) takes great pains to ensure that we like Christian. After all, this is a vindictive, socially awkward CPA who assassinates people for a little extra cash; not exactly a guy you’d invite to bowling night. We feel empathy for him, though, because he struggles with the feeling of isolation that haunts us all.
When he shares an impromptu lunch with the effervescent Dana (Anna Kendrick), for example, his desperate need to connect with her is matched only by the irritation he feels for having his routine interrupted. Finally, after exhausting all of his rehearsed reactions and talking points, Christian bonds with Dana over their shared affection for the famously tacky Dogs Playing Poker painting.
“It's funny because dogs would never bet on anything. It’s incongruous,” a stone-faced Christian muses.
It’s the sort of droll humor that perfectly suits Affleck’s deliberate style. Kendrick proves a nice counterpart, as the two accountants ferret out the embezzler who's draining the coffers of John Lithgow’s tech company. Their chemistry is so free and natural it makes no difference that even the prospect of romance is ludicrous.
When the story stays focused on Christian and Dana’s relationship, along with the inevitable mayhem that finds them, The Accountant weaves effortlessly between quiet character moments and random brutality. When it strays into adjacent plots and police investigations, however, the unnecessary interruptions jeopardize the otherwise propulsive pacing and tone.
Again, O’Connor is so determined to make his anti-hero likable that he creates a criminal investigation to illuminate Christian’s (questionable) moral code. J.K. Simmons plays the Treasury officer obsessed with confronting Christian, even if it means blackmailing a young agent with a troubled past (Cynthia Addai-Robinson as ‘Medina’) into helping him. It’s always nice to see Simmons, who delivers an unforgettable scene while staring down the barrel of a gun, but there’s simply no need for his story to exist. He is the dispenser of backstory and wisdom; the Basil Exposition of assassination thrillers, if you will.
All we really care about is Affleck’s fascinating hitman. Even if the plot spends enough time in ridiculous territory to be assessed rental fees, Affleck keeps us thoroughly entertained with his bundle of eccentricities. He blows on his fingers like a superstitious gambler before loading his weapon of choice; be it a rifle or an IRS W-2 form. Christian uses a system of childlike smiley faces to form an emotional shorthand for his overwhelming world. His Airstream trailer is packed with priceless artwork (“Is that an original Pollock?”), treasured comic books, and enough firepower to startle Ted Nugent.
And yeah, and he kills people. Lots of them… in grim and unpleasant ways. He’s a one-man army of head wounds and crackling limbs. O’Connor precisely choreographs the violence for maximum impact and his stunt crew (and presumably Affleck) delivers splendidly. It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the shuffle of nameless henchmen, so O’Connor wisely creates a central nemesis (Jon Bernthal) who matches Christian’s skill set and moral code. It’s all delightfully excessive and packs a generous number of intentional laughs (unintentional laughs come free of charge).
The Accountant isn’t exactly “This year’s John Wick”, as some have said, but if you like R-rated violence with lots of humor and just enough substance to keep your brain engaged, this stylish thriller will do nicely.