It’s strange that a movie about someone so smart can end up being so dumb.
There’s an obvious comparison between Ben Affleck’s character in The Accountant and Will Hunting (Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting. Both movies star characters who are astonishingly good at math and take on unexpected careers. It also doesn’t hurt that Affleck co-wrote and co-starred in Good Will Hunting (though The Accountant was written by Bill Dubuque). However, while Good Will Hunting was secretly a film about therapy, The Accountant is really an action-thriller with an uncomfortable fetishization of autism.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor, the story centers around Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a numerically-brilliant but socially-challenged man who runs a small accounting firm, helping small businesses and drug cartels.
The plotline highlights Wolff’s newest account, an innovative tech company that has seen some of its profit margins disappear. Along the way, the movie also explores Wolff’s masculinized childhood, his brief stint in prison, a gangster trying to assassinate him and a police squadron trying to figure out who he is.
Featured on the 2011 Blacklist, it is this endless stream of convoluted subplots that ends up being The Accountant’s downfall. While the pacing never drags, there is very little growth as the movie spends more time introducing plotlines than developing the plotlines already established.
Similarly, the first act seems to entirely consist of showcasing various celebrities. John Bernthal magically apparates looking like David Schwimmer, Anna Kendrick appears with her signature tone that doesn’t quite fit with the film and Jeffrey Tambor shows up because why not. While all of these actors, from JK Simmons to John Lithgow (there are lots of ‘J’ actors in this movie), have moments and things to do, their characters’ relevance to the plot is either grounded in stupidity or pretty tenuous.
This excess of characters leads to the movie’s internal conflict: Who is this movie actually about? The film’s marketing would like you to think that it is about Mr. Wolff, but the movie’s focus is wary, and any growth Christian might make is not explored onscreen.
One major reason for this is the utilization of autism as a narrative device. Considering that Affleck’s portrayal creates a very narrow perception of a not-so-narrow spectrum, The Accountant seems to be at least two decades dated. Even though the film is not directly making fun of him, much of the comic relief derives from Wolff’s actions existing outside of the social norms. So even though the characterization might not be entirely inaccurate, the film certainly seems to look down on its star.
Another reason for Wolff’s lack of development is that his portrayal in youth is very different than his portrayal in adulthood. As a child, Christian Wolff is seemingly uncontrollable, whereas in adulthood, he is seemingly unable to be disturbed. The explanation given is that Wolff’s father (Robert C. Treveiler) taught him how to be tough. Not only does this not really make sense, but it condones blatant toxic masculinity. Healthy outlets are repeatedly ignored in exchange for violent outrages, and the movie never acknowledges these choices as destructive. Wolff doesn’t grow as a character, and the harmful lessons he learned as a kid only exist so the film can justifiably be action-oriented. It’s like the filmmakers watched Fight Club and took the message that violence was good.
The action sequences in the film are decent, but nothing particularly special. There is some good fight choreography and a strong sense of control with the camera, but nothing that stands out as mind-blowing. Because Christian Wolff is a savant at mathematics and murder, the action scenes typically involve Wolff killing everyone in spectacular fashion. Which can be fun to watch, but also removes any sense of tension. It’s like John Wick, only not as stylistically interesting.
The Accountant starts out seeming a bit too complex, and then feels a bit too simple. Ultimately, it’s fine. It’s okay. Somewhat stimulating, but not particularly interesting. The Accountant is the kind of movie that’s great to have on TV while you aren’t really paying attention. There are moments where you want to lift your head and watch, but any real investment will be as frustrating as doing your taxes.