There’s a scene early in Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant” where a young boy completes a complex 1,000-piece puzzle with the cardboard side up.
It’s a scene meant to inform viewers how Christian Wolff (played in adult form by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck) handles his inherent duality as an exceptionally bright person who just so happens to have high-functioning autism. Instantly, it establishes the duality of the character that later manifests into mild-mannered CPA by day, vigilante assassin by night. The film itself also finds an interesting duality as both traditional action fodder and thinking man’s drama.
Now an adult, Wolff serves as CPA to the most dangerous criminals and warlords around, which inevitably puts the Treasury Department on his tail. He believes he is playing it safe by taking a consulting job working for an up-and-coming robotics company, until the bodies start piling up.
Affleck portrays Wolff with all the care one might expect from award season dramas rather than a simple blunt instrument for death and financial investigation. An autistic anti-hero is inventively unique in the action genre, but it takes real talent to flesh out the character on screen and not turn it into a caricature of “Rain Man.” Affleck toes the line well here in this complex, layered role and provides the much-needed heartbeat of the entire feature.
Christian Wolff is exactly the type of action role moviegoers have been waiting to see from Affleck after various degrees of missteps as Bruce Wayne/Batman in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears.”
Anna Kendrick channels much more of her Oscar nominated turn in “Up in the Air” than “Pitch Perfect” as junior accountant turned damsel in distress Dana Cummings. There isn’t a lot for Kendrick to do with the lightly written character, but Kendrick imbues Dana with just enough of her own spunky, affable personality to make Cummings a refreshing counterbalance to Wolff’s inherent stoicism.
Jon Bernthal, fresh off a compelling turn as The Punisher in season two of “Marvel’s Daredevil,” puts a lot of gusto and life into Brax, the film’s obligatory hitman for hire. Much of Bernthal’s quality work is lost in a plotline that doesn’t exactly belong in the first half of the film and Brax would have probably been better served as the main villain of a sequel film. But Bernthal powers through with a strong effort nevertheless.
The cast is rounded out by solid, yet unspectacular performances from John Lithgow as the owner of the robotics company Wolff investigates, Jeffrey Tambor as a money launderer who teaches Wolff the black money market and J.K. Simmons as the veteran Treasury Department agent on his trail.
It shouldn’t come as much surprise that “The Accountant” was penned by “The Judge” screenwriter Bill Dubuque, who seems to have an affinity for writing one subplot too many into his scripts. “The Accountant” bounces all over the place instead of keeping the action firmly following Wolff, an affliction “The Girl On The Train” fell prey to when it veered away from Emily Blunt.
Jumbling up the storyline with too many flashbacks and side plots forces the hand of director O’Connor, who probably shoots about 20 minutes more film than he needs to. Scene to scene, “The Accountant” is well executed on a technical level with Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography a highlight, but the film’s poor pacing often drags the whole narrative down. It’s a film that tries to cram three hours worth of plot into a two hour hole.
In spite of its flaws, “The Accountant” is a well acted, thoughtful action-thriller in the vein of films like “Jack Reacher,” “John Wick” and “The Equalizer,” all of which have sequels slated.
Led by strong efforts from Affleck and company, “The Accountant” richly deserves a second run at the big screen and is a most worthy film to check out in theaters this fall.