An intriguing, off-kilter character lives at the center of The Accountant, a twisty, slickly paced, often knowingly funny but just as often straight-up goofy action film starring Ben Affleck. Affleck has one of the better roles of his career as Christian Wolff, a hero who nearly tempted Mel Gibson, Will Smith and several directors to step up to the project. It’s a good thing those other actors passed; Affleck’s on-camera reticence, glum, slightly pouty affect and close-to-the-vest reserve are dead-on.
Created by screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge), Wolff is a character who hides out as a strip-mall CPA. Privately, he must rigidly arrange the food on his plate, pop his Zoloft precisely on schedule, meticulously arrange his living space, hit himself with a wooden stick, blast metal and generally conduct his personal affairs in a ritualistically controlled way. No wonder Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” got used as a signature song in the trailer and Sean Rowe’s plaintive “To Leave Something Behind” punctuates Mark Isham’s anxious musical score. It turns out that this buttoned-up accountant is a math savant on the autism spectrum, a guy who, as we see in too many flashbacks, got raised by an overprotective ex-Army father who wanted to bully-proof both the young Wolff and his brother but instead wound up brutalizing them both with martial arts training.
The grown-up Wolff badly wants to connect with people but, out of a need for self-protection, he stays as far from others as possible, a wee bit like another of Affleck’s characters—that would be Batman. Also like the Caped Crusader, he harbors a dark secret: He’s actually a black-market forensic accountant. His high-rolling international clients hire him to uncook their books, then turn a blind eye and move on. But when the bad guys have him cornered, his old training kicks in and he turns lethal as in–well, imagine the hero of A Beautiful Mind suddenly busting moves like a natural Bourne killer. Wolff, a crackerjack marksman, has a hidden arsenal of deadly automatic weapons and is a master of an Indonesian form of fighting that lays waste to anyone who crosses him.
Sharply directed by Gavin O’Connor (known best for Warrior and Jane Got a Gun) and crisply shot by Seamus McGarvey (Nocturnal Animals), the movie definitely entertains and intrigues, especially in its first half, as it unpacks some of the puzzles in the Wolff’s background and state of mind. The plot and character strands fuse when the hero comes under the watchful eye of a crime enforcement honcho of the U.S. Treasury Department (J. K. Simmons) and a shrewd agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) at the same time he begins investigating a multimillion glitch at a cutting edge robotics company run by John Lithgow. Working closely with the company’s socially awkward junior accountant (Anna Kendrick, making the most of an underwritten role), our hero falls into something like a light romance, but the two keep bumping up against the plot’s increasing violence.
It’s when the movie switches gears and goes for red-meat action that it becomes less involving and surprising, despite how expertly it’s shot and edited. The twists are just too convoluted, the villains too easy to spot, the explanations too talky and the rapid fire blam!-blam!-blam! too predictable. Instead of Wolff’s autism bleeding into the climactic action set pieces–either giving him an edge over his would-be assassins or putting him at a scary advantage–his condition simply becomes window-dressing.
Entertaining and preposterous, The Accountant is set up to become another potential Affleck franchise. At least the actor seems committed and totally in the zone playing an emotionally limited obsessive with a deadly aim. This is his Taken, his John Wick. Nothing wrong with that.