It’s quite an achievement that director Gavin O’Connor and editor Richard Pearson managed to craft a coherent film from an incoherent script. What is essentially an action/thriller about a highly-functioning autistic accountant is told in a needlessly haphazard way as the film forces its audience to follow so many characters that, despite being connected, seem disjointed.
The film follows Christian Wolff as he is assigned by his handler to audit a major robotics company after its in-house accountant, Dana, discovered some financial discrepancies. After uncovering the extent of embezzlement being done, Christian and Dana become the targets of ruthless assassins. The film also follows Raymond King and Marybeth Medina who work for the Treasury Department as they try to identify Christian Wolff and track his activities. The film starts off simply enough, but the way the two storylines eventually diverge is so clumsily written that whatever surprise the film holds is offset by the needlessly complex manner in which it’s told.
The Accountant tries to do so much, packing in so many characters and storylines that ultimately feel superfluous to the bigger picture. Not satisfied with giving us the lead character’s childhood in numerous flashbacks to explain his assassin abilities, almost the entire movie’s plot is told in flashbacks that jump back and forth in several dates for no reason. It eventually culminates in an absurdly lengthy scene where J.K. Simmons literally sits down on a couch and explains to a character every single thing about Christian’s background, how he’s helped the Treasury Department, and why Medina was recruited in the first place.
The Accountant is just so needlessly complicated. And I don’t mean that it’s complicated because it’s hard to understand. Quite the contrary since the movie breaks its momentum to explain everything to us. But for some reason it had to involve so many tertiary characters instead of using ones we already know. So many characters could’ve been cut out for a leaner, straightforward film that had no need to use so many flashbacks.
The film even offers a twist in the end where it’s revealed that Jon Bernthal, who plays the leader of the ruthless assassins hired to target Dana and Christian, is actually Christian’s older brother. The twist is an unexpected surprise, and not in a good way because it has no effect on the plot or characters whatsoever. It doesn’t add anything to the picture at all. Remove Jon Bernthal’s character from the film (both in the flashbacks and in the present timeline) and absolutely nothing is lost except for Bernthal’s strong performance.
Still, for all its strange scriptwriting choices and narrative missteps, the film is well-made, particularly when the action kicks in. There’s an effortless execution in the fights and shootouts that results in some truly exhilarating action and violence. The action scenes are fast without being incomprehensible, well-choreographed without looking artificial, and violent without being excessive.
Ben Affleck, unfortunately, is unconvincing and miscast for the role of Christian Wolff. Although he excels at the action scenes, watching him play a character with high-functioning autism feels inauthentic and forced at times. You can’t quite shake the feeling that you’re watching Ben Affleck the movie star play a character that’s completely out of his depth and range. Anna Kendrick also doesn’t fare well. Her character feels like an afterthought and is similarly miscast. The movie tries to establish a connection between them, but the two actors’ lack of chemistry make this impossible. The age difference between them also doesn’t help, because despite Kendrick being 30 years old, she still looks like she just left her teens which highlights the age difference between her and Affleck.
Thankfully the supporting cast more than makes up for the disappointing leads. If you’re going to have an extra long exposition scene, J.K. Simmons is one of the actors you’d want to hire to deliver it for you. Jon Bernthal makes yet another strong impression for a small role and Cynthia Addai-Robinson is a refreshing addition to a film full of experienced actors.
For all its faults The Accountant is still a worthwhile experience. Gavin O’Connor’s direction elevates the film beyond the trappings of yet another generic action film and the concept itself feels fresh despite the inelegent writing. It’s much harder to save a poor a script through execution alone, but The Accountant manages to do it somehow.