There are two ways to interpret Ben Affleck’s The Accountant. If you are to take the film as a super serious action-thriller, the film is a complete failure, with weak performances and a ludicrous plot. However, if you interpret the film as a cheesy schlock-fest, where the actors and director team up to make intentionally stupid scenes, like a bizarre heir to Face/Off and Point Break, then you have a pretty entertaining film. I have no idea which way Gavin O’Connor and Affleck intended to make this film, but despite the film’s stupidity pushing to the breaking point, I can’t say it isn’t an entertaining effort.
Christian Wolff (Affleck) is a mild-mannered accountant and mathematical savant. Born with Asperger’s, he’s made a living with a special set of skills: due to his very particular and very organized mindset, he can find discrepancies in seven years’ worth of books in one night, but also possesses killer fighting and shooting skills, due to an Army father who forces him to fight his condition. Finding criminals to be more respectable than the average swindling businessman, he has a system in place-whenever the Cartels, crime families and crooked businessmen need their books uncooked, they call him, and he’ll come in, do the job, and get out, like a ghost. However, while doing some routine work for a respectable business, he finds discrepancies that not only endanger his own life, but the life of an innocent intern, too (Anna Kendrick). Being hunted by both a highly skilled assassin (Jon Bernthal) and a pair of Treasury Department agents (J.K Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Wolff must rely on his skills, both physical and mathematical, to defeat the malevolent forces at work.
Glancing over that synopsis, most sane people would come to the same response: that sounds pretty f*cking stupid. And you’re right. It is. But that’s the weird thing about this film. While it’s really stupid throughout, it’s impossible to tell if that is an intentional choice or if it is error on the parts of those involved. The film takes its story completely seriously throughout-there’s attempts at emotional beats, the action is all done in a serious manner, and at times it seems like this is seriously a normal thing for people with Asperger’s. And if it is to be taken seriously, the film is a mess. The story jumps all over the place-including to unnecessary at best and completely ridiculous at worst-and the Treasury subplot is so pointless, it’s unbearable. However, there’s a second interpretation at work here. At times, the film reaches a point of stupidity so severe, it has to be interpreted as intentional. I mean, there is literally a gearing up montage, but not when he’s preparing to go into battle-instead, the montage is when he prepares to do math. That’s right-6 foot four Ben Affleck has a scene where he lays out boxes full of records, straightens his pocket protector, puts on his glasses, and proceeds to make spreadsheets across the windows. All this while the camera dramatically pushes in on his face. I don’t know how to look at this sequence without interpreting it as intentionally this stupid. A similar note can be made about the fight sequences. They all take themselves incredibly seriously, and O’Connor directs them intelligently, but they’re just so over the top, they have to be done with tongue placed firmly in cheek. That’s the biggest issue with this movie-yes, it’s stupid, but is it stupid on purpose?
While I’m on the subject, I should take the opportunity to point out that Affleck is both perfectly cast and perfectly miscast at the same time. The role needs someone dark and brooding and talented at acting. Affleck fits that mold. But allow me to give you a description of this character: a young-ish man diagnosed with Asperger’s who has trouble connecting with people while also being incredibly intelligent. Does that sound like 6’4” Southie lunkhead Affleck? Not at all. As I said, it looks completely idiotic watching him walk around with a pocket protector in order to do math equations. It also looks ridiculous to see him rock out to heavy metal for exactly twenty minutes while he massages his leg muscles. But that’s apparently how he interprets Asperger’s, and it makes the movie all the more ridiculous for it, whether for better or worse. The only way I can interpret this decision on his part is that he had the following conversation with his agent:
Ben: Matt gets all the good roles! Bourne, Good Will Hunting, etc. I want roles like that!”
Agent: Ok. I’ll find you a script like that. So which do you want to be? Super-cool assassin Bourne, or troubled mathematician Will Hunting?
As for the other actors, they mostly all seem to be in on the joke and are acting accordingly. Kendrick is a fantastic actress, especially because she knows her style: she can do the flustered, awkward girl, or she can be the sassy voice of reason. Here she is decidedly the first, and it works perfectly, as she tries to connect to Affleck’s disconnected introvert to often comedic results. Bernthal makes a choice early on to play his role like he’s a villain in a late 80s-early 90s movie, chewing the scenery and delivering over the top monologues, and as awkward as it is, there’s some joy in watching it. And I know I criticized the Treasury subplot-and it really is bad-but it builds up to J.K. Simmons just waxing poetic for a good ten minutes, and that’s such a good thing it almost saves it. The worst actor in the cast is Addai-Robinson, who is not only the worst detective ever written for the screen, but is also playing the role like she’s the second coming of Clarice Starling. She takes her role seriously, which is so god-awful it adds more credence to the “intentional” theory.
This is such a weird film to review. It’s a nightmare if you interpret it seriously, but it’s great if you think it’s intentional. I come down somewhere in the middle: while I think some of the choices were comedic, the director’s self-seriousness in most of the action sequences makes me think at least some part of it was supposed to be a proper action-thriller. However, one man’s stupid is another’s masterpiece. I can’t tell you if this movie is supposed to be that dumb. I can only tell you what I got out of it. To decide, you’ll have to see it for yourself. And I can promise you that no matter what happens, you’ll definitely be seeing something you’ve never seen before.
As a side note, I deserve recognition for making it through this review without slipping into my terrible Boston impression. “Fawk me, I gawta uncook all these numbahs due to my fawkin’ Aspergah’s. Go Sawks.”