Film review: THE ACCOUNTANT, from ‘Built for Speed’

How do you stop a film about an accountant being a snoozefest? How about making him a superhuman killing machine.  That is the dubious premise behind Gavin O’Connor’s moderately exciting, often confusing and occasionally silly hitman thriller The Accountant.

Ben Affleck stars as the eponymous number and skull cruncher Christian Wolff a savant maths genius whose autism saw him persecuted as a child but according to the film, has also made him a task-focused money man for organised crime and a meticulous military-trained killer. By day he masquerades as suburban accountant and corporate financial adviser but at night he stalks unsuspecting villains and assorted enemies with a high-powered rifle. When the mysterious British woman who only speaks to him by phone directs him to a job in which he has to ferret out missing money at a cutting edge robotics company, he becomes immersed in deadly game of corporate fraud.  At the same time he tries to cope with painful memories of his childhood, an obsessive compulsive disorder that sees him alienated from society and Treasury agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who are determined to snare the deadly bean counter who they constantly see popping up in their surveillance photos.

The Accountant has two major problems. First, as would be obvious from this plot precis, it contains a disjointed and messy storyline. Apparently, The Accountant was originally meant to be a tv series but this idea was shelved in favour of a cinema release. Consequently, we have several episodes worth of plot squashed into a 128 minute movie. Not surprisingly, story shifts, explanations for events and relationships between characters are confused.

The other major concern is the depiction of autism here as Wolff’s condition is at times treated as a novelty and even equated with cold-hearted violence and criminality. Admittedly, flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood do try to give some sympathetic insights into the difficulties faced by individuals with his condition and their families. It also reveals that Wolfe had a uniquely sadistic father who subjected the youngster to brutal training regime in the misguided belief that this would turn him into a resilient human being. The film also pays at least some credit to those who are trying to understand and guide young people dealing with autism.

Affleck is passable in the role of Wolff evoking a cold, slightly perplexed demeanour and with his thick-rim glasses, an air of Clark Kent minus the goofiness.  There’s a reasonable attempt at giving this mass killer a flicker of sensitivity as he develops a fondness for his bubbly robotics company co-worker, Dana (Anna Kendrick).  Kendrick is likeable as always and adds an enjoyable light touch to what is often a drab and morose film. J.K. Simmons is, for the most part, the same gruff, condescending piss-taking character he is in every other film although his character has an unexpected moment of vulnerability. It seems, though, that the intention with the TV series was to give each major character a traumatic back story. With the switch to a single feature film, fragments of these back stories have been dropped on the audience but not explored in interesting ways. Also, oddly, Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s character goes missing for large parts of the film so her pursuit of Wolf loses its momentum.

The film’s action scenes are a mixed bag. Some are clearly framed, dynamic and visceral like those in the first Taken movie while others are an infuriating mess of unrealistic combat techniques made almost unwatchable by wobble-cam and dim lighting. The film also commits numerous action movie sins, the most irritating being the complete incompetence of everyone Wolff battles. Supposed lifetime crims and elite military security experts suddenly become totally inept in combat and can’t shoot Wolff when he’s standing directly in front of them.

This film at times looks like an upmarket version of an 80’s video nasty revenge film like The Exterminator but its strong cast, atmospheric cinematography and the fact that it at least touches on a vital issue like autism (even if the treatment of that issue is questionable) raises it a few notches above typical right wing action fodder.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Action/ thriller.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Gavin O’Connor.

Release date: 3rd Nov 2016.

Running time: 128 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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