That’s some skill set Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has in “The Accountant.” Genius number cruncher. Crack shot. Martial arts master. Collector of fine art.
A man of many impressive accomplishments.
What makes him even more impressive is that he is autistic. Which poses difficulties when he tries to interact socially with other people. At the same time, though, his condition gives him the ability to single-mindedly navigate intricate financial matters. Which makes him much sought-after by people with complicated finances, like cartel kingpins and shady businessmen, who wish to protect their ill-gotten gains. His training in martial arts and his impressive hidden arsenal of high-powered weaponry make him a man skilled at defending himself against the unsavory characters he works with, should that become necessary.
Sounds complicated. It is complicated. And that’s only a bare-bones rundown of the complexities wrapped into “The Accountant” by screenwriter Bill Dubuque (“The Judge”) and director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”).
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Affleck brings a kind of sphinxlike stillness to his portrayal of the autistic hero. Obsessive mannerisms signal Wolff’s attempts to impose order on what he perceives to be chaos around him. But he’s also high-functioning enough to interact effectively and sympathetically with other people, particularly a corporate accountant played by Anna Kendrick whom he perceives as being a being a kindred spirit: a big math nerd and an outsider not unlike himself, though she is not autistic. It’s a muted but impressive performance.
Similarly impressive is Jon Bernthal, playing the villain, a mesmerizingly intelligent killer; J.K. Simmons as a high-ranking Treasury official intent on tracking down Wolff and Cynthia Addai-Robinson playing a Treasury agent with a checkered past, a past that Simmons’ character uses to blackmail her into helping him catch Wolff. Virtually all characters have hidden sides to their personalities, which, when revealed, enrich the story.
The picture addresses the autism aspect with sensitivity in flashbacks to Wolff’s youth in which the stresses his condition place on his family and the tough love his Army officer father employs to help him cope in an unfriendly world — martial arts training is one — are laid out.
Dubuque’s script is the real star here. He meshes multiple plot elements — Christian’s struggle with autism, a revenge thriller, a crime procedural — with smooth expertise. He carefully plants clues throughout the movie that are in essence fuses to revelations that explode in later scenes. Clues such as the kids rhyme “Solomon Grundy” or a jokey seemingly tossed-off reference to a dogs playing poker painting have big payoffs down the line. Everything in the picture is there for a purpose, and there’s more going on in every scene than initially meets the eye. There are no loose ends here, and it’s a thrill to see how adroitly Dubuque ties everything together.
O’Connor’s direction is perfectly in sync with the script’s twists and turns. He makes Wolff’s hunt through arcane financial records as exciting as a climactic shoot-out, and both scenes are riveting.
The premise of accountant as action hero might seem absurd, but “The Accountant” makes it credible and fascinating.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow.
Director: Gavin O’Connor.
Running time: 2:08.
Rated: R, for strong violence and language throughout.