The Accountant is a good story told poorly. The latest from writer Bill Dubuque, who previously had a similar well-intentioned shortcoming with 2014’s The Judge, this Ben Affleck-led thriller bets everything on a mystery that most will see coming from a mile away.
Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, a brilliant mathematician who has an easier time crunching numbers than he does relating to other people. Unbeknownst to the citizens of the small Illinois town where his CPA office is located, Wolff moonlights as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. His purposely quiet life is turned upside down when a high ranking official at a company owned by his latest client (John Lithgow) mysteriously turns up dead, and soon Wolff finds himself on the run from bad guys and government agents (J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson) alike, all while trying to protect a young accounting professional with whom he feels a deep connection.
The role of the innocent accountant is filled by Anna Kendrick, who carries herself well opposite the otherwise veteran cast of Affleck, J.K. Simmons, and John Lithgow. Her character, Dana Cummings, is tasked with doing what the audience cannot: She must peel back the many layers of Christian Wolff in hopes of understanding who he is, where he came from, and what it is that drives him to be so thorough in everything he does. She also must play the part of a love interest, although the film goes to great lengths to keep romantic moments at an absolute minimum.
To his credit, Affleck does a lot with the material he’s given, bringing a complex character that feels unlike anything audiences have seen him tackle in the past. The opportunity to go big with Christian’s eccentricities is constantly present, but Affleck chooses instead to practice restraint in nearly every movement. Christian appears calm and calculated, as if he’s always two steps ahead of everyone as long as things go exactly as he has planned. In the event that they don’t—which is more or less what drives the core of the story—Christian is prepared to do whatever he must to regain some sense of control over the world around him.
Where The Accountant goes awry is in its setup. Instead of telling the story of a mysteriously strong and talented accountant who must fight for his life against the very people he is known to work for, the film attempts to build a mystery around a core component of Christian’s youth. This would be fine if the film established a clear history for the character before inquiring about what we do not know and why, but instead Dubuque’s script relies on a very slow series of reveals told through disconnected flashbacks to various points in Wolff’s life prior to the start of the film in order to build mystery. You’re not on the edge of your seat as much as you are waiting for everything to add up, and by the time Jon Bernthal’s character appears knowing the third act surprise is a simple matter of deduction and common sense.
Director Gavin O’Connor, perhaps best known for giving the world the Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton boxing favorite Warrior, does his best to keep audiences engaged when the material begins to feel stretched thin. His vision of the world of The Accountant is one where the lights are typically dimmed, everything is impeccably clean, and everyone waits for everyone else to finish speaking before they themselves speak. Some of this can be explained through Affleck’s character and his various ticks, but even elements of the world beyond his control are rigorously neat and tidy. It’s a fairly pretty world at first sight, but over time its excessive cleanliness forges a layer of disconnect between its reality and our own. People simply do not behave the way most do in this film, and aside from the protagonist’s unique neurological functions the only explanation for their stiffness would appear to be the script.
There is a better version of the story told in The Accountant than the one being offered to audiences with the release of this film, but I am unsure whether or not we will ever see that version made public. Maybe one day some hardworking film student will break a digital cut of The Accountant into pieces and reconstruct the narrative in a way that makes us all see the movie we were sold through the flick’s lengthy promotional campaign, but until that time this movie will remain a ho-hum thriller where the parts are better than the whole.