My rating: 3.5/5
I never really know what a movie is going to be like until I watch it. Some movies grab my attention and present an intriguing premise and riveting characters. Others have a thoughtful message that challenges the audience into thinking about things in a way they might not have otherwise. Still others are full of convoluted plot developments that make less and less sense as the film goes on, leaving the viewer utterly frustrated. There are even movies that seem completely pointless, almost as if the filmmakers didn’t know what they were trying to convey.
Then, there are movies that do all of those things.
The Accountant is just such a movie. It starts out with an original premise and fascinating main character, compellingly brought to life by Ben Affleck, but ultimately amounts to little more than a generic action movie.
The titular accountant is Christian Wolff, a man who practices creative accounting and money laundering for criminal organizations, as well as being a lethally trained fighter. He also has autism, which is probably the most interesting aspect of the film. As an autistic myself, I am always skeptical about movies that tackle the subject, since few, if any, do it accurately and without stereotyping. However, the makers of The Accountant apparently did at least some of their homework, because the film’s message regarding autism is generally one of neurodiversity and acceptance. In an early scene, Christian’s parents are recommended not to attempt to make him normal, but to accommodate his needs and allow him to develop at his own pace. However, his father disregards this good advice, and decides to try to over-stimulate him as much as possible to force him to overcome his perceived challenges. This approach is shown to be abusive, even causing Christian to resort to extreme coping methods in adulthood, but the film almost suggests that this abusive approach worked. After all, it apparently gave him his fighting skills and we don’t really see many negative side effects, such as the post-traumatic stress disorder that many autistic adults struggle with in real life. There are also some stereotypical elements to Christian Wolff’s character. He’s a math savant, for instance. Can anyone think of an autistic movie character that wasn’t a math savant? Neither can I. In addition, he’s uninterested in a romantic relationship. While I find any movie without a romance to be a refreshing change, (way too many movies have unnecessary romances) it may be seen as problematic to some autistic viewers because it reinforces the popular misconception that autistic people are either uninterested in or incapable of romantic relationships. Otherwise, Christian Wolff is a character I really like, and a character I can relate to. He’s extremely intelligent, but socially awkward, and he has trouble understanding the not-always-obvious meanings of what other people say. In addition, he uses his gifts to his advantage while coping with his challenges, and the viewer is never given the impression that he would be better off without his autism.
On an artistic level, The Accountant starts out well, and kept me engaged for at least the first half. After that, I started noticing some problems. One problem is Christian’s propensity for killing his opponents. While the film thankfully never links this to his autism or a lack of empathy, (another misconception about autism) it does call into question Christian’s moral character. The film tries to convey that he has a moral code and only kills certain people, such as murderers, but the ethics in play are vague at best. Additionally, there are far too many disparate plot threads, and overall the plot doesn’t really go anywhere. The main plot is about Christian uncovering a scheme involving a company he did accounting for, but nothing especially interesting is revealed, there are almost no personal stakes for Christian, and his motivations are never as clear as they should be. The plot only gets worse as the film goes on, with the climactic scene being disappointingly lacking, and the ultimate resolution seeming too quick and easy. There is also a subplot involving a U.S. Treasury agent that adds little to the film.
Aside from the problems with the plot, the film is pretty entertaining. The actors are all well-cast. Ben Affleck is great in the lead role, making his character likable and generating empathy from the audience, despite being mostly anti-social in the movie. He’s easily the best thing about the film. Anna Kendrick plays an employee of a company that hires Christian, and the only person in the film who really befriends him. She also gives a good performance, and the dynamic between the two characters created some entertaining and humorous situations. As a U.S. Treasury Agent, J.K. Simmons once again proves his acting ability, but was largely underused. Jon Bernthal as one of the villains is another standout. Other high points in the film are the action scenes, which were well-staged and executed. The technical aspects of the film were also competent.
Ultimately, while The Accountant is an entertaining film with an intriguing premise and a great central character, it has too many problems to be much more than an action film with a twist and nothing to say. The final scene tries to make a statement about how autism is ultimately just a difference and we should all be more understanding, but nothing in the film really supports or leads to the statement. While it’s a great statement, it seems tacked on. The film also tries to suggest that while Christian’s actions are illegal, and sometimes wrong, it’s okay because he’s a good person and does some good things. That’s a message I can’t fully get behind. It would be one thing if the film presented a flawed character and asked you to try to understand him. It’s quite another when it seems to be trying to excuse his flaws. However, I have to give the film points for its better-than-average treatment of autism as well as Ben Affleck’s performance as one of my new favorite movie characters. All this adds up to a movie I really like, but can’t help being deeply frustrated by.
Release Date | October 14, 2016
MPAA Rating | R (For strong violence and language throughout)
Director | Gavin O’Connor
Distributor | Warner Bros.