The Accountant: An asset turned liability

For a while, The Accountant trundles on with a heavy sense of purpose, as though burdened by its own awareness of what it seemingly believes to be brilliance. A protagonist, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck ironically asked to be emotionless), has a disorder that’s revealed through quick flashbacks. “I’d prefer not to label it,” says the doctor in one of the flashbacks when the concerned parents want to know what he’s suffering from. Meanwhile, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) of the Department of the Treasury is on the hunt for this mysterious accountant, who has also likely dispatched a mafia group with considerable ease. Also, meanwhile, another deadly assassin is tying up loose ends. Also, meanwhile, the CEO of a robotics company is looking to clean up his company’s finances. As you can see, there’s plenty going on, and yet, rather likeably, the pace of The Accountant remains unaffected.

This also has the desired effect of providing the film’s characters with history. The Treasury investigator has withheld a criminal background from her employer. The Treasury head, Ray King (J. K. Simmons), is burdened by a secret of his own. Even an old couple that Christian befriends early on don’t feel planted, despite featuring in just three scenes. They are all living, breathing characters, and yet… frustratingly, this depth never really translates into the ground-breaking conflicts the film’s mood keeps hinting at. At one point, Christian, when explaining his condition, says that while he has trouble socialising, he also has the uncommon gift of being able to unwaveringly focus on certain narrow tasks. At the end, I couldn’t but wonder if perhaps the scriptwriters of The Accountant could have done better with a man like Christian.

Genre: Action thriller
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons
Storyline: A mathematics savant, who deals with criminal organisations, unwittingly gets an innocent woman into trouble 

Christian’s itself is rather questionable characterisation. Must you take side with a man, simply because he contends with a disorder? A man, who otherwise is a rather selfish accountant who has no moral issues with abetting drug cartels and money launderers, as Medina points out. Even though the movie belabours the point that he gives away his income to a charitable institution, it doesn’t quite make him seem virtuous.

The bigger issue concerns his invulnerability. He plants head shots at will, and is equally adept at close combat. Mafia members and trained assassins are to him basic accounting issues. A couple of flashback scenes serve to establish his phenomenal fighting prowess, with his father telling him the importance of channelling aggression. “You can either be a victim or…” he tapers off. It’s almost funny how both his children end up violent misfits.

In between all this, somehow, the writers manage to also pack in a rather unconvincing love angle between Chris and Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick). It’s ostensibly done to lighten the mood, but I couldn’t see what Chris sees in her, let alone understand why he risks his life.

It’s when he is left to his own devices that the film is most enjoyable. Like when he builds his tolerance for the outside world by practising with strobe lights and heavy metal music. Like his quirky habit of blowing a puff of air at his fingertips before embarking on a task. Like the almost eidetic way in which he assimilates financial information. But these are sadly just footnotes to many, many pages of an aimless book.

As is only expected of a film that deals with a disorder, a narrator explains at the end that autism—which is what Chris supposedly suffers from—affects a sizeable percentage of the population, and tries to encourage sensitivity towards the condition. But considering that Affleck’s character almost romanticises it as a superpower, the narrator may well have not bothered.

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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