With a strange premise and what has to be the least interesting title in recent memory, The Accountant starts out walking uphill. It features Ben Affleck (Argo) as Christian Wolff, an autistic man who works as a CPA for dangerous organizations, often killing as needed. He is hired to sort through the records of a biotech company after a bright, young staff member (Anna Kendrick; Pitch Perfect) finds something that doesn’t add up. What follows is the aftermath of the conspiracy he discovers that puts him and Kendrick’s character on the run from an unknown party looking to end their interference.
The film deserves significant praise for its portrayal of autism. Most films do not feature characters with disabilities that are able to live independently. Even Dustin Hoffman’s Academy Award winning role in Rain Man portrays the character as a tragic figure, brilliant but ultimately useless. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) is able to successfully balance the effects of the disease. He doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of children with autism and the stress it puts on their families. In flashbacks of his childhood, Wolff’s parents are at a loss when trying to raise him as he doesn’t interact with other children and frequently has uncontrolled outbursts to the point that his mother leaves the family. Yet, the film shows how he is able to manage his difficulties. Through discipline and both medical and behavioral treatment, Wolff is able to become a successful adult, choosing a profession that utilizes his extreme attention to detail. His autism is still clearly present, but he is cognizant of his triggers and mitigates them. Affleck conveys his character’s situation with commendable nuance.
The tonal mix may be jarring, even excessive to some. The Accountant wants to be both a procedural thriller as well as an action movie. Like its lead, the film splits its time between the close examination of financial records and hitmen assassinating loose ends. To his credit, Affleck is believable in both situations, but the premise alone strains the film’s credibility. There is a backstory to support Wolff’s dual life, but it’s difficult to merge the disparate connotations of accountants and assassins. Fortunately, O’Connor is equally adept in staging someone poring over t-accounts and infiltrating a heavily guarded home. The action scenes are surprisingly tense. Affleck’s fighting style reveals the methodical, emotionless nature of his character and Kendrick’s resistance shows her resourcefulness even in the face of danger. They may seem far-fetched but the set pieces are always entertaining.
With Affleck as the lead, it’s hard to avoid the obvious comparison. Wolff could be viewed as the autistic Batman, doing taxes by day and fighting criminals by night. Yet there is a practicality to Wolff’s lifestyle that sets him apart. He isn’t trying to be a hero or be a villain. He is only taking advantage of his particular combination of skillsets. He has an innocence that makes him more sympathetic. His actions aren’t right or wrong, just necessary for him to complete his assigned task. The unique character backstory and effective action make The Accountant a refreshing spin on the typical hitman narrative.