One of my favourite podcasters posits the idea of the perfect action movie having a Tomatometer score hovering around 50 percent. Watching The Accountant, I was reminded that for a good amount of time, till maybe The Matrix and Bourne films came along, the perfect action film needed a certain degree of cheese and ridiculous contrivances to hit home and The Accountant is almost fine throwback in that regard.
The Accountant tries to eat its cake and have it by also trying to hit that standard of modern action thriller filmmaking with a pseudo-cerebral and compelling screenplay opening with the trail of bodies left by who exactly? We aren’t sure, but we gear up for the journey which proceeds to offer some flashbacks to a home for neurologically impaired kids where we meet the autistic boy who will grow into Ben Affleck’s eponymous protagonist. Then we meet the present day accountant who goes by the name Christian Wolff. Expect some education on German mathematicians via a young Treasury Department analyst played by a Cynthia Addai-Robinson who is blackmailed into trying to put a concrete ID to Affleck's mysterious character.
There is a lot of good stuff early on and the film is very well paced in the way it cuts between the various time lines and narratives differing in tone. In the flashbacks we learn that the young Christian’s military father does not think his son needs a special home to help him deal with his autism. A bit of discipline and exposure to the real world will do as far as he is concerned. This is later compounded by the emotional strain of young Christian watching his mother walk out on his uncompromising dad. Before we know it, more flashbacks show young Christian, alongside his brother, getting bloodied by a martial arts instructor.
The trajectory of the flashbacks gives some indication of how the script unravels; from the intriguing sympathetic exploration of Affleck’s Christian to the bonkers narrative that is appended by a load of ludicrous twists a la classic action cinema. Christian is portrayed as a quiet lonely man who views nightly doses of self-inflicted pain as essential as his pills for coping with his condition. But he is also good at math and killing as the film’s trailer and poster tell us. He does the books for the worst of the worst and moves around a lot, much like in his childhood, leaving him at 0 on the person skills meter.
The core plot of this film sees Christian try to take some heat of his back by engaging in some more legit accounting. He agrees to work the books for some high-tech prosthetics firm. One of the firm’s accountants, Dana (Anna Kendrick) has spotted some accounting anomalies and Christian is brought in to break down the books in montages that reminded of a certain Zach Galifianakis meme. Of course there is a Pandora’s Box at the end of all this when Christian discovers some malfeasance and before we know it, some hitmen, led by Jon Bernthal’s character, are out to kill both Christian and Dana.
From this point, the only thing worth watching is the action. Our director, Gavin O’Connor, does a good enough job of shooting nicely constructed action sequences – be it Christian being engaged some close quarters brawling in Dana’s bathroom or making good of a belt and his thigh to the fatal dismay of a henchman, all though in true 90s fashion there is no real suspense to the action. Think prime Seagal. All this neat action is driven by Christian’s compulsive need to find out what is at the bottom of this accounting Pandora’s Box. We are made to believe he has this compulsive completionist gene as he just has to know who is behind the anomalies in the prosthetics firm’s books.
The performances are as good as we expect them to be. Affleck plays his socially awkward reticent character understatedly without going into Sheldon/Sherlock territory. He meshes well with Kendrick’s Dana who is bubbly and also awkward in her own charming way. Their relationship peels of some more layers to Christian bringing forth some tender moments without sparking a romantic sub plot, barely. Then there’s Bernthal’s character, Brax, who provides the right amount of menace and hipster-ish intrigue without playing to the action villain tropes we have seen over the years.
Plot holes and exposition abound as the Treasury Department paints a clearer picture of the enigmatic Christian in its investigation. Some pretty obvious twists rear their head but like I said, 90s cheese. The ridiculousness of the resolution will elicit warm smiles, like watching a two year old playing football for the first time trying to beat a grown-up on the dribble.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana