Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Screenplay: Bill Dubuque
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: October 14, 2016
Greg, can I count on you to review The Accountant?
Sure, but there’s no accounting for taste. Let’s recap.
We meet an autistic child named Christian Wolff (Seth Lee/Ben Affleck), whose parents are very worried about his ability to lead a “normal” life. We also meet Christian’s younger brother Baxter (Jake Presley/Jon Bernthal). Christian’s dad (Robert C. Treveiler) decides that young Christian doesn’t need special psychological help for his autism; he only needs toughening up. Along the way, Baxter receives the same military-style upbringing.
Flash forward 30 years and Christian Wolff is invited to review the books of robotics company Live Robots. He finds a discrepancy but is told to stop the investigation. Meanwhile, agents at the FBI have taken an interest in Christian’s extracurricular activities. It seems he was the perpetrator of a killing of a mob boss that the director of the FBI was involved in. Further investigation reveals that Christian is deeply involved in the bookkeeping of several drug and crime lords. Who is this mysterious accountant?
Greg, I enjoyed The Accountant, probably far more than I should have. Perhaps it’s because Ben Affleck is at his best when he delivers an understated performance. Perhaps it’s because this movie defied Hollywood’s norm of portraying a disabled person as impeccably virtuous. Or perhaps because we have an intriguing story here with a number of memorable performances, most notably by J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jon Bernthal, and John Lithgow.
The story structure is interesting in first showing us revealing snippets of Wolff’s childhood struggles with autism, and then abruptly moving deep into Wolff’s hero’s journey as a 40-year-old accountant. Or rather his anti-hero’s journey, as Wolff may be a genius but he has used his genius to help some really bad dudes. As is typical of a hero, Wolff is missing something important that he must find to obtain true happiness. In this case, it is a connection with people. The character of Dana Cummings enters his life to help him discover this missing quality.
I also enjoyed The Accountant more than I expected. While there were a few plot holes, they weren’t too egregious as to interrupt my enjoyment of the film. We’ve been fed a lot of “superhero” movies this year, and in many ways, the Accountant is a superhero as well. He has super intelligence as well as super fighting and weapons abilities. In many ways, the Accountant is similar to Affleck’s other role of late – Batman.
In writing circles we have a concept called “Saving the Cat.” This is an act by an otherwise rough character that softens his persona for the audience. In The Accountant, Wolff saves Dana’s life in a situation that amounts to pure altruism. He has no stake in her survival, yet he goes out of his way, risking his own life and his mission to get Dana to a safe place. This ingratiates him to us, and so his anti-hero status is softened.
That’s an interesting cat concept, Greg. Our hero Wolff is a complex character, helping out bad guys but also revealing fabulous mental superpowers and saving people like Dana. We may not agree with his criminal associations, but we empathize with his severe autism and can understand how he was led down a dark path by his father’s parenting failures. It didn’t help that Wolff is mentored in prison by Lamar Black (Jeffrey Tambor) who shares with Wolff the secrets of cooking the books.
Yes, Wolff has a couple of dark mentors. I found it curious that his father took him out of the special school for autistic children, yet Wolff gave copious sums to them as donations. It implies that the school acted as a mentor to his inner self, rather than to his physical capacities or to train his autistic mind.
I had trouble with labeling the father as a dark mentor. After all, he taught Wolff to defend himself against bullies. However, both Wolff and his brother end up in the employ of seedy characters doing dark deeds. In the end, their father’s military training does appear to be dark mentoring.
Good point about the father. We go out of our way to label these characters as either good mentors or dark mentors, but in doing so we lose sight of the fact that most fathers are probably a mix of both good and bad. That certainly seems to be the case with Wolff. Should we create a category of mentor called the mixed mentor? Something to chew on.
Overall, The Accountant grabbed my interest from the outset and held my attention for the full two hours. I wanted to know what happened to this struggling little boy with the cold, demanding father. And then when we find out, I wanted to know if the struggling man, who is still a boy in many ways, can finally grow up and transform into something better. The answer is yes, and I was left fully satisfied as a moviegoer. I doubt The Accountant will win any awards but it did win my heart. I give it 4 Reels out of 5.
As mentioned, this film portrays the hero’s journey in an unconventional way, giving us an overview of Wolff’s childhood and then jumping ahead 30 years to Wolff in early middle-age. This is the point in the story when Wolff is ripe for transformation, as his love interest enters his life and he has several “moments of truth” to deal with. Wolff’s journey is not one that we see very often in the movies, and I enjoyed it. I give him a rating 3 Heroes out of 5.
Mentorship has a strong presence in this movie. In addition to Wolff’s two darkish mentors, J. K. Simmons’ character, Ray King, serves as a strong and also darkish mentor to his protégé Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). The mentors in this film earn a rating of 4 Mentors out of 5.
The Accountant was a surprise in many ways. Firstly, it made an accountant interesting – quite the daring feat. Secondly, the accountant in this story is fairly emotionless. That is a difficult role for an actor. Such other notable characters in film come to mind – Spock from the Star Trek franchise and the eponymous Lucy from 2014. Affleck really delivered the goods. While he was characteristically stoic throughout the film, we definitely came to sympathize and ultimately root for him in the end. And while this was clearly an action/adventure, there was plenty of character development and relationships at play. Pile on that this was an origin story for a new kind of superhero (which often takes up half a film), and you can see that a lot was packed into 120 minutes. I also award 4 out of 5 Reels.
I think this is a bit of an anti-hero story, Scott. As we note in our book “Reel Heroes & Villains,” the anti-hero is an otherwise villainous character who is the protagonist. Wolff deals on the wrong side of the law and kills with impunity. However, we see him apply his super skill to save an old farming couple and Dana. I liked this anti-hero and award him 3 out of 5 Heroes.
And while I agree with your assessment of the mentors in this film, dark though they were, I don’t have as much enthusiasm for them as you do. They are pretty average mentors that we have seen before. I can only muster 3 out of 5 Mentor points.