Movie Review: The Accountant.
Ben Affleck smashes together all of his past roles to create a homunculus that makes math a bloody good time. Also, Anna Kendrick needs to be Squirrel Girl. NOW.
Ben Affleck asked me not to review this, but goddamn it, I’m going to review it, because I watched it, and it’s the truth: I fucking love this movie. It’s the best movie ever, PERIOD. Ladies and gentlemen…
OK, all hyperbole aside, I really enjoyed this one. And as you might have noticed, I hate a lot of movies. Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun, Miracle) and written by Bill Dubuque (the Judge) the accountant is a story about a man who is more than he seems.
The Accountant (2016)
We are first introduced to Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) as he counsels a pair of small town farmers on how not to lose their farm to taxes. Operating out of a nickel and dime accountancy office in the middle of a strip mall in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we quickly learn that Wolff is a wiz at how to sneak one by the IRS… and that he can’t take a joke. Not that he has a bad sense of humor, he doesn’t have a sense of humor, period.
Through a flashback we learn that Wolff has Asperger’s, a “high-functioning” version of autism. He can communicate and learn, but he lacks the ability to pick up on social cues such as sarcasm or subtext. He has obsessive-compulsive habits and trouble controlling his emotions, especially when it comes to leaving a task incomplete. He’s also brilliant, picking up patterns and accounting principles with ease. His father, however, is an old school military man, who sees his son’s condition as something that hard work and discipline can fix (I will rant about this a little later). Daddy proceeds to enrole Christian and his neurotypical brother Brax on a hellish routine that would make Spartans say “DAAAAMMMMNNN”.
Combining his brilliant mind and his martial prowess, Wolff decides to make a living solving financial problems for some of the world’s most dangerous people. Sometimes those solutions involve very large guns. His latest venture places him at the center of an embezzlement scheme while also being hunted by J.K. Simmons and the federal bureau of the treasury. Any more description than that would spoil a tense movie where no one’s exactly who they appear to be. This theme of ambiguity runs throughout the film, and gives it it’s most salient point.
I don’t need your sympathy, man….
Everyone and everything in this movie is an onion, and as you peel the layers back, you learn that you don’t need to judge something to understand it. No one in this movie is “the good guy”. Everyone is flawed, and you learn to give them your empathy rather than your sympathy. Even Major Dad and his tough love are an opportunity to avoid knee-jerk assessments and labels. He’s a flawed man (and mostly an asshole) but we see later on that in his own broken way he loves his son and is proud of him.
Christian’s autism is a wonderful vehicle for this as well, and I mostly applauded how the film handled it. I do work in science advocacy, especially in the realm of educating against pseudoscience, quacks and charlatans. Besides cancer patients, autistic people and their families are the biggest victims of these snake oil salesmen. Through my advocacy I’ve come to understand and empathize with people who aren’t neurotypical. Often they are thought of as broken, that they have been made less whole and require repair. They are not damaged goods, and treating them like Christian’s dad did often does great harm to them physically and mentally.
They are fully realized people, just different: no better, no worse. That Christian has come to grips with himself and how he fits into the world (minus a few hangups left over from his time being “fixed”) was a nice, deft touch. It could have been preachy or gimmicky but O’Connor takes the high road. My only complaint is that it veers into a trope of showing that people with different mental make-ups aren’t less than human by over-accentuating their positives, so much so that they seem superhuman.
Bourne Again Christian
Did someone say superhuman? This movie is quick to remind you that this is an action thriller, lest you think it is all about balance sheets. This movie needed its own accountant just to tally the body count. Wolff is a one man wrecking crew, and despite doing shady things for terrible people, he has a code of things he won’t do, or more interestingly, things he will do to you if you breach his moral contract. Gun play, vehicular mayhem and close quarters combat are all loud, frenetic and visceral without being nauseating (unless gore offends you, then feel free to be nauseous). The action is probably the best Jason Bourne-style bad-assery since the first Bourne movie.
Speaking of our good Mr. Damon, best buddy Ben seems hell bent for leather to out Damon Damon. If his action is top notch Bourne, his brilliant accounting (seriously, the math wasn’t boring, it’s that cerebral) is upper echelon Good Will Hunting. He also seems determined to out Affleck Affleck. When a joke sails over his head, we get the doofy, lovable early Ben. His friendship with Kevin Smith is shown in little nuggets of comic book geekery, as Wolff chants the ballad of Solomon Grundy to keep himself focused, and was even once paid for a job with a copy of Action Comics #1. We get the driven/tortured vigilante moments that were about the only good part of his turn as Daredevil. Christian’s origin story and motivations would have been perfect as a set up for the Murderverse Batman Warner is intent on making (more in sec). This highlight reel of the best bits of Dafleck (Affmon?) made for a monster movie that blended together stray bits so expertly that you couldn’t see Dr. Frankenstein’s stitches.
Jesus Christ, Another Rant?
This movie should be blasted outside Zack Snyder’s home Say Anything style for a full year (or until Justice League comes out). This film was a master craft of how to make a dark “super” hero movie. Relatable yet intriguing, visceral yet winsome. If you substitute Aspergers and an abusive upbringing for the trauma of watching your parents murdered in front of you as an origin story, Wolff is actually a Bat. If they had put a cowl on him no-one would have batted an eye. Hell, J.K. Simmons is basically Commissioner Gordon in this film. I have no idea how he is going to top this performance. And it is going to be a fucking crime against humanity if Affleck doesn’t lift the idea of a super intelligent handler who sends anonymous guidance to Christian (and Simmons from time to time) and translate it into Oracle for the solo Batman movie.
And Anna Kendrick… sigh.
I was skeptical when I heard she wanted to be Squirrel Girl, the greatest super hero that you might never have heard of (fix that problem like five seconds ago, OK?). “She’s too conventional to get it right”. Whoa buddy, am I a convert. Anna plays a nerdy accountant who tugged on the initial thread that unraveled the embezzlement case that Wolff is called in on. Her geeky yet neurotypical awkwardness was such a beautiful lens into Christian’s autistic social inability. She added heart and empathy in an unforced way every time it was asked of her. If there is a God, he will make an 11th commandment that a movie about eating nuts and kicking butts must be made now… or plagues. Of squirrels.
A Wolff in Deep Clothing
This movie isn’t ACTUALLY the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. But it is probably one of the best I’ve seen this year. The timing for it should help it financially, and I think the timing helped my receptivity to it. We get a dose of action in a dull movie time. We see actors we are primed to watch in larger-yet-similar roles. The movie is fast paced and deeply layered without being ponderous or needing some M. Night Shyamalan twist to work. I recommend it. Hell, when the credits rolled I actually got up and clapped. Others looked at me like I was weird. Screw ‘em. If The Accountant is to be believed, normal is overrated.