Ben Affleck plays an action hero on the spectrum in a tonally awkward movie that strays into absurdity.
“What is this?” shrieks this film’s villain (John Lithgow, bringing on the full, hammy Lithgowness) at an unfortunate moment in the laughably bad The Accountant. You’ll know exactly how he feels. Up to a certain point in Bill Dubuque’s staggeringly silly screenplay, we ache for Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), having gotten to know the loneliness of an autistic child grown into an inert grumbler of an accountant. We see him epically fail at making cute with a flirty associate (Anna Kendrick, waves of confusion never leaving her brow). We even become excited as Christian cracks a corporation’s cooked books, writing all night on windows, like troubled mathletes do in movies.
Unfortunately, such plots aren’t enough these days. Not when Hollywood can turn an unassuming number cruncher into a superhero, as Dubuque does here. Christian also has a motor home full of military-grade weapons. He’s got a mysterious British-accented associate who gives him directions over the phone, à la Charlie’s Angels. And he has several depressed treasury agents (including a wasted J.K. Simmons) chasing him through an ominous Chicago. It really does feel like the film suddenly gets taken over by an overheated 10-year-old, kicking director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Tumbleweeds) to the curb.
Affleck’s Christian is so superhuman that his on-the-spectrum tics begin to feel like a parody of action heroism. With expressionless capability (forget about guilt or remorse), he fires his automatic into dozens of henchmen’s heads. It’s not the best advertisement for mental illness. And we still haven’t even got to the endless flashbacks of his browbeating father or the movie’s ridiculous finalé that turns The Accountant into a family reunion—if John Woo ever decided to stage one.
None of this adds up on the ledger; you can feel the reality seeping out of the movie like air from a shot tire on the Batmobile. Call it the Christopher Nolan Effect: Why so serious? The Dark Knight director has had a mortifying effect on movies. In this case, it’s almost as if Affleck’s somber plunge into the calamitous, Nolan-produced Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has followed him into other projects, like a heavy cologne. Avoid this one like the stink it is.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew
Greetings, Mr. Rothkopf. I'd like to make some comments and hopefully clear up some things you may have misinterpreted about The Accountant. I sincerely hope you read this review and actually pay some attention it, as blowing it off and stagnantly holding a grudge against a first impression of a movie illustrates a lack of critical thinking or appreciation for art (I assure you, I don't have much favorable bias towards Ben Affleck; I can agree that Batman v Superman was a bit of a mess). I mean in no way to be offensive, I'm trying to open your eyes a bit more to what's below the surface of this movie. It takes different types of minds to understand different types of movies.
To organize this, I will try to understand your points and then dissect them, and seriously be as objective as possible trying to understand the reason why the movie is the way it is.
1. 1st and 2nd paragraph: You seemed okay with the backstory part of Christian Wolff, but think that the screenwriter added action simply because Hollwood demands superfluous action to keep watchers entertained. You feel that the action is forced into an otherwise action-less plot about an autistic man’s childhood.
The way I interpret it, the movie plays out with the flashbacks in the middle of the present-day plot to better explain Wolff’s actions, emotions, and thoughts. The story takes places in the present, and the flashbacks are for character development. Although it does spend a lot of time on the flashbacks, they are not what’s happening in the main plot.
In contrary to your opinion, I feel like the movie did not have as much action as I expected. Based on the trailer, I almost expected an over-the-top action shoot’em up (eg: Jack Reacher, which happened to be playing) with very little focus on Wolff’s personality and autism. In fact, this might be the first time I’ve seen a movie show a myriad of weapons and gear and not show them in use (eg: Wolff’s other guns, his motorcycle, and not to mention the gatling gun at his house. You never see a movie show off a gatling gun and not fire it up). I genuinely feel like the action propels the plot forward, rather the the plot being a gateway to the next action sequences (*Ahem.. Fast and Furious). Despite the movie being rated R, it was much milder than what one might expect. Action movies rated R can have a LOT of violence and gore.
2. 3nd paragraph: Lack of emotion in Affleck’s performance. The advertisement of mental illness portraying a killer with no scruples or moral emotion.
I felt like Affleck’s performance was actually one of the high points of this movie. If you think it was boring, let me ask you this: have you ever interacted with autistic people? Depending on their condition, they can be genuinely as awkward as Affleck was. Perhaps emotionless is not the best description, rather, nervously quiet. People try to hide anxiety as much as much as they can.
One thing about mental health and Wolff’s ruthless killing is that it does not justify his killing. There is a VERY big difference between potraying or telling something and justifying it. For example, does a war movie justify horrendous war crimes? Obviously not. Do the explicit descriptions of rape in say, the Bible, justify rape? By all means no. It is describing it to condemn it. However, the movie, from what I can tell, neither justifies Wolff’s killing as righteous or does it downright condemn it. Things in this world are rarely black and white (but that’s a different discussion). The bigger message of the story is that autistic people CAN live life independently, even if they differ vastly from society. You never know, one MIGHT just be a highly skilled soldier with a normal job as cover. Another point that puts a big spin on this argument is that you said “mental illness”. Very good point. Someone mentally ill believably might have less scruples about killing because something is wrong with their mind. This movie is about AUTISM. Autism is NOT mental illness. The dominant message in this movie is that autistic people aren’t “freaks”, they are just, different.
3. Lack of realism, making the movie resemble superhero movies.
First of all, do you ever expect super accurate realism from action movies? Invulnerable or invincible heroes, seemingly bottomless gun magazines, the hero saving a friend just in time; these are all STAPLES of action movies. Despite Wolff being an expert fighter and marksman, there is of course some unrealistic aspects. If you are looking for total realism, then I guess non-fiction is up your alley. Then again, movies based on true stories are almost ALWAYS have exaggerated details for theatrical effect. It is impossible to demand incredible realism from movies, let alone (fiction) action movies.
4. Your entire last paragraph about how the movie has been heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight.
I normally don’t like to be so rude, but the only way to say this is: you are wrong on several parts. Please get your facts straight. The Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan was from 2005-2012. That series is not related to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). I am genuinely curious as to what you find “mortifying” about the “Nolan Effect”. Could you elaborate on what the “Nolan Effect” is? I’ve found the term used in a few articles, but they don’t have much to do with his film-making techniques and the effect on actors, but more with how he disrupted the Oscar’s movie awarding methods. (Source: http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/the-nolan-effect-why-the-larger-best-picture-pool-is-actually-shrinking-the-number-of-oscar-contenders/) * If you are technical and like to check sources.
Zack Synder directed BvS. Nolan, although labeled “executive producer”, had almost no involvement in the making of BvS. He was actively involved in Man of Steel, but pretty much left it all to Snyder for BvS. The way BvS turned out was due to Snyder’s directing, which is pretty apparent. (Source: http://screencrush.com/zack-snyder-christopher-nolan-batman-vs-superman/)
Your opinion that Nolan’s Dark Knight influence has ruined Affleck’s performances in recent movies is not really what bothers me (even if it is misguidedly false). What bothers me is that you reviewed The Accountant and gave it a searingly terrible score on Metacritic.com and don’t even have major movie facts straight. A simple Google search will tell you that Snyder directed BvS, his wife and Charles Roven produced it, and the Dark Knight Trilogy is a completely different Batman series with a different actor for Batman (Christian Bale).
Hopefully this changed your perspective on the Accountant and on how to better review a movie (I hope)? As a senior film critic for TimeOut New York, I expected well-reasoned logic behind your score for the Accountant (A strong opinion is warranted if it has reasonable support). I was surprised to find hardly any, especially considering your repertoire of other movie reviews (I did my research). Don’t think I wrote all this because I thought The Accountant was the best movie ever. I enjoyed it, but I myself would give it a 3.5/5. The action was well done, the story of Wolff’s childhood was great character development, but the subplots really detracted from the main focus of the movie. Far from perfect but far from 1/5. Best of luck to you sir in your future.