“WHAT IS THIS?” demands Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) during the climactic moments of THE ACCOUNTANT. Viewers, on the other hand, will no doubt be asking the very same question much earlier in the piece, in a film that takes the path of most resistance as it tries to convince us that two and two doesn’t always equal four.
In the humblest location of ZZZ Accounting in the quiet town of Plainsfield, Illinois, autistic accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) leads a double life as a forensic accountant for major firms needing to find misplaced millions. However, soon to be retired Treasury Department director Ray King (J.K. Simmons) suspects that he is something more, so he blackmails Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), young analyst with a criminal past, into tracking down the person he only knows The Accountant. When Wolff is hired by robotics CEO Blackburn to sniff out a monetary leak, he encounters the enthusiastic in-house accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick). However, Wolff soons find his carefully ordered world tipped out of balance, with an assassin (Jon Bernthal) hot on his tail.
The troubling idea of a film exploitatively dealing with autism as a gimmick soon gives way to the bigger problem of its “kitchen sink” approach to storytelling. THE ACCOUNTANT is a convoluted plot that deliberately obfuscates not out of any inherent cleverness, but simply to make the journey from A to B as twisty as possible. At its core, the juxtaposition of an autistic child being brutally trained by his father to become an accountant/assassin is an original plot device. Yet Bill Dubuque’s (The Judge) screenplay isn’t content to sit on the sum of its parts, multiplying the story points exponentially with the addition of martial arts masters, self-abuse, multiple subplots, and twists we suspect even Dubuque didn’t see coming, or even think through terribly hard. Like his lead, Dubuque might just “like incongruity.” Indeed, there are times when it almost feels as though we’ve missed a reel, lurching as the film does from one location to the next.
Affleck gives a restrained performance, unemotionally carrying out very typical action movie stuff, but getting very excited by accounting. Naturally this includes the obligatory use of a clear surface to write equations (pictured above). Of the supporting cast, only Addai-Robinson and Simmons maintain intrigue, with their solid portrayals of complex law enforcers rising above the meagre material. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Nocturnal Animals) create a slick palette for the confusing series of events to play out on, finding some terrific point of view shots and moments of artistic flair to the Illinois locations, and the thumping sound design rattles the cinema speakers on more than one occasion.
THE ACCOUNTANT takes the shop front of the Jason Bournes and Jack Reachers of the world and removes the personality, imitating the form but none of the substance. As the film wraps itself up into a self-satisfying conclusion, it’s hard to avoid the feeling you’ve been blindfolded, spun about, and told that you’ve been taken somewhere you’ve never actually visited. There’s a lot of equations going on here, but none of them add up to a satisfying whole number.