A highly functioning form of autism: The Accountant

The Accountant (2016)

A frustrating crime thriller that could have been great but instead is almost ruined by a third act that suffers from many silly narrative decisions

The Accountant

Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Written by Bill Dubuque. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger and Alison Wright.

The Accountant is a frustrating movie that could have been great but unfortunately is not. In fact, the very idea of an autistic accountant with Jason Bourne skills is pretty amusing in itself (or, should I say, an autistic Jason Bourne with accounting skills?) I guess math can be a superpower too, right? As strange as it may seem, though, the narrative is direct and effective enough to work for the most part — that is, until it decides to go into self-destruction mode in the third act. Some people do know how to kill the fun.

Written by Bill Dubuque, who was also responsible for the terrible The Judge (2014), The Accountant follows CPA and mathematical genius Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) who works as a freelance accountant for many dangerous criminal organizations in the world. When Raymond King (J. K. Simmons), director of financial crimes for the Treasury Department, recruits analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to help him identify and capture the mysterious accountant, Christian takes on a legal assignment: to audit a state-of-the-art robotics corporation where accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has come across several financial discrepancies. But as Christian goes through the books, an Assassin (Jon Bernthal) shows up in his way to make sure that he doesn’t get to the truth.

With this kind of plot that may sound derivative, The Accountant has an advantage: the way it makes us believe that a functional autistic accountant would have learned martial arts in Indonesia and become a killing machine with a crystalline, razor-sharp intelligence. Antisocial and sullen (“I don’t discuss client’s business”), Christian speaks with a flat, unemotional voice and is apparently incapable of understanding feelings (in the past he even learned how to fake them) or even jokes and idiomatic expressions — and Ben Affleck does a solid job to show his discomfort when engaging in conversations, usually with some small tics like tapping his fingers on a desk or averting his eyes from his interlocutors.

In fact, the most entertaining in the movie is to witness the extent of his talents, both physical and mental. Christian has an extraordinary aim and a tremendous discipline to maintain his psychological stability by saturating his brain everyday with stressful stimuli like loud sounds, strobe lights and even physical pain before taking his medication (a continuation of his father’s efforts to force him to overcome his limitations) — and it is especially curious to see that his human targets seem to be as faceless to his sharp eyes as his practice targets. It’s precisely because of all that that his sudden desperate decision to help Dana appears to be incoherent and incompatible with his character when he learns that her life is in danger.

But on a second look, this contradiction gives him nuance and makes him more intriguing when we realize that he is capable of emotional attachment (let’s be honest, not being would be pretty offensive, but let me come back to that point in the last paragraph). Sure he develops a bond with Dana that is too abrupt to ring true, but I like that. I guess those who try the hardest to suppress their feelings are the ones who become their easiest prey. This is an interesting contrast with the character of the Assassin, who has a sharp mind too but also a hilarious, cheeky sense of humor and bursts of aggressiveness — and if Bernthal does a nice work, the rest of the cast doesn’t stay behind (nor do they stand out, actually). They’re all just OK.

When it comes to director Gavin O’Connor, whose work includes the decent efforts Warrior (2011) and Jane Got a Gun (2016), he does a fine job to create a realistic feel to such an absurd story (this is the post-Jason Bourne era after all, right?) Sure, the juxtaposition of images that show Christian’s thinking process amid a confusion of whispers and followed by an intense score is not original, but works. The action scenes are also shot in an intense way, with a good sound design, and I like how O’Connor makes Christian more menacing and mysterious in the line of fire by keeping his face usually off screen or out of focus, especially in a scene when he speaks to King from behind, pointing a gun at him. Gavin is just as composed as his character.

And it helps that Dubuque’s script holds our attention with its direct dialogue and firm structure – that, like I said, before it all goes to shit in a terrible third act full of exposition and ridiculous twists. There is an extensive monologue that never finds any good justification for so much useless information about a previous encounter between King and the accountant. The movie simply stops, and it’s easy to see that it doesn’t serve any actual purpose. What comes after – a series of revelations leading to a “big main twist” in the end – is an insult. Of course everyone can see it coming from the beginning, but I hoped the movie wouldn’t give in to that. It is basically a lot of family soap-opera stupidity that almost ruins everything.

But, to be honest, what can we expect from a screenwriter who doesn’t mind coming up with something this terribly offensive about people with autism disorder, virtually comparing them to psychopaths and showing them as dangers to society? In other words, it is like having Rain Man become an indestructible killer like Jason Bourne because he is the way he is – and if that doesn’t sound offensive enough, wait until you see the movie’s ugly last scene and revelation. It borders on fascism. At least it is over before the damage is worse.

October 26, 2016

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