THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The Accountant is the latest example of a movie where the theatrical trailer proves to be a far more satisfying viewing experience than the film itself. Whoever cut that trailer should be given an Oscar. They made a confused, frustratingly muddled picture look coherent. In this case, that's no small feat. Despite a great cast and an intriguing core concept, writer Bill Dubuque (The Judge) and director Gavin O'Connor (Warrior) can't decide which of several stories they want to tell, so they tell all of them simultaneously.
Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic accountant who works for some of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world. A high-ranking Treasury official (J.K. Simmons) is looking for him, as is one of the bureau's analysts (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). To give an appearance of propriety, Christian takes a job working for Lamar Black (John Lithgow), the owner of a high-tech robotics firm, looking into a discrepancy in the books. Assisting him is accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), who struggles to understand his unusual demeanor. The movie is fine up until this point. Then we discover that Christian is also a highly skilled sharpshooter and fighter. Why? Apparently, it's because The Accountant wants to have some action. And since an action movie needs a bad guy, Jon Bernthal shows up as a violent goon who starts threatening people because...well, why does he do that?
The Accountant utterly fails at things like character introduction and establishing plot points. Figuring out who half the people are or why they're behaving as they do is nearly impossible. Bernthal's character, for instance, is never properly woven in. He just shows up out of nowhere, threatening some other guy whose identity we aren't clear on. Jean Smart is also here, as somebody seemingly high up in Black's company. Maybe they felt she didn't need justification, since the film quickly forgets all about her. Other things left largely unexplained are what Christian finds in the books, why it matters, or what the (painfully obvious) villain is trying to accomplish. At the two-thirds mark, everything comes to a screeching halt with a weak attempt to fill in some of the gaps via a massive, five-minute exposition dump. Even then, the explanation is so convoluted that you're left shaking your head.
The Accountant doesn't know what it wants to be and it subsequently plays like several movies at once. For a while, it's a drama about an autistic man working in accounting. Then it's a comedy about how Dana tries to find common ground with the guy who doesn't possess interpersonal skills. Then it's a procedural about the treasury analyst trying to track Christian down so that a secret from her past won't be revealed. Then it's an action movie, with Christian shooting people and uncovering some kind of cover-up in the books. Then it's about Simmons' character, who has a personal reason for wanting to track down the accountant. Any time you start to become interested in what's going on, the film abruptly switches course. After a while, the disjointed tone and seemingly arbitrary nature of the story become maddening, resulting in a desire to simply give up on the whole thing.
Good performances are the only saving grace. Affleck is excellent as Christian. He doesn't turn the character's autism into an acting parlor trick, instead going for something more authentic. Kendrick, meanwhile, provides her usual charm, and Simmons brings his ever-reliable presence. They all do committed work that deserves a lot better than this sloppy mess.
One can only imagine what the process of assembling The Accountant was like. Did no one recognize that the pieces didn't fit together? Didn't some of the supporting players (including Jeffrey Tambour as a prisoner who mentors Christian in flashbacks) realize that their characters had no set-up? Did anyone have a clear vision of what the movie was supposed to be, or were they simply aiming for the illusive “four-quadrant” hit that appeals to men and women, young and old?
Whatever happened, the final product throws everything imaginable at the wall. Virtually none of it sticks.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Accountant is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.
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