The Accountant is a tonal mess”

by Steve Pulaski

Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant is a strange hybrid of a Wall Street, corporate-crime driven narrative with Taken-style beat-em-ups lurking around many corners, particularly during the third act, when any attempt at realism just completely crumbles. I can’t say I didn’t particularly enjoy most of The Accountant, despite the weirdness of its hodgepodge, but I also cannot say I was moved by it in any memorable way.

The film revolves around Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), an autistic mathematics who can work numbers in unfathomable ways. His speed, precision, and attention to detail with cooking the books has made him the right-hand-man of a lot of bad people, including assassins and career criminals. Meanwhile, Christian does this dirty work, sometimes working with a ledger, sometimes with a powerful, anti-aircraft sniper-rifle, in addition to living the most modest life one can imagine. He has a ritual of eating alone in his empty home before visiting a storage unit where he keeps a trailer housing copious amounts of money, guns, and ammo. It’s a perfect life for just one person.

Tracking Wolff – who uses the aliases of many other mathematicians – has proven to be no easy task, but Treasury Agent Ray King (J. K. Simmons) and his assistant Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are trying their best as Wolff takes on a new job trying to examine fifteen years of accounting practices for a robotics company in Chicago. Far from his assistant, but the one soul who keeps nudging at his side, is Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), a small-time employee at the company who is the first one to hear from him about how he believes the company managed to lose millions over the course of a few years. Then the body count begins to add up, leaving Wolff with no other option besides taking his sniper and going to work himself.

The Accountant
Directed by
Gavin O’Connor
Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
Release Date
14 October 2016
Steve’s Grade: C-

An interesting observation I made about the audience I was with during my showing of The Accountant was how much they turned the experience into a serious laugh-riot. Frequent moments were the source of peoples’ belly-laughs that I haven’t seen that strong within the last year for any comedy I’ve seen in theaters. Whether or not The Accountant, which features quirks like Affleck’s subtle wave of apology after endangering an old couples’ life, his obsessive-compulsive mannerisms that begin much of his daily routine, or just off-the-cuff bloodshed with virtually no warning, was supposed to play as much as a comedy as it was a drama or a thriller, still mystifies me.

Unaware exactly of O’Connor or screenwriter Bill Dubuque’s intentions, I’m going to say the comedic aspects of the film are largely unintentional, but in contrast, the pervasive shootouts and murders admittedly make this story airier and more light-hearted than I’m sure most were initially expecting. I find this to be a graver problem because you have a cast built for serious, compelling cinema, your lead actor one of the recipients for the Best Picture Oscar four years ago and a supporting actor who won two years ago for one of the best films of the decade, plus Anna Kendrick, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow, all great actors, and you throw it away with an incongruous focus.

Affleck is unsurprisingly great here, so if nothing else, audiences will continued to be reminded that they emptily bash the forty-four-year-old, who is one of the most versatile actors working today, and the rest of the cast holds up their end to the best of their ability. That doesn’t change the fact that The Accountant is a tonal mess, with an ending that makes you wish that perhaps Wolff shouldn’t have been the sole-focus of the film, both cooking the books and the shooting the goons, but with its consistently entertaining, constantly moving premise, it does operate, at worst, like a middling CBS procedural. If you can live with that, you can probably live with its unevenness overall.