Monday, October 24, 2016

'The Accountant' review

There have been plenty of career turnarounds in recent years, but none more impressive than the one Ben Affleck has take over the last decade. After spending a lengthy period of time as a tabloid laughingstock (this culminated with Gigli and Daredevil in 2003), Affleck re-established himself as a director, a move that completely rejuvenated his career. Gone Baby Gone and The Town were great starting points, but Affleck emerged as one of Hollywood's finest with Argo in 2012. The Tinseltown-set caper was one of the most acclaimed films of the year, walking away with the Best Picture trophy (even though Affleck himself was snubbed in the Best Director category.) The superstar actor was back on top, and he had an infinite amount of directions he could take. He lined up a whole variety of directorial projects, but then Batman came along. When Affleck took up the mantle of the Caped Crusader for the newly minted DC Cinematic Universe, his promising new career took a slightly different turn.


Thankfully, Affleck has also continued to tackle some very interesting prestige projects, original movies from great directorial voices. He was utterly exceptional in David Fincher's Gone Girl in 2014, a magnificent thriller that proved itself to be one of Affleck's best movies. Affleck's next directorial effort, Live by Night, will hit theaters in December just in time for Oscar season, making it one of the most anticipated movies of the year. But before that, Affleck has teamed with Warrior director Gavin O'Connor for The Accountant, a Jason Bourne-esque thriller that is certainly one of the most high-concept films of the year. In this film, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic man who is also a mathematical savant and a trained assassin. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Well, not really. The Accountant is a concept in search of a story, a wacky thriller that isn't nearly as compelling or enjoyable as it sounds. It's another disappointment in a string of early fall letdowns.

Christian Wolff is diagnosed with a unique form of autism at a young age, which causes him to have difficulty socializing while also displaying special cognitive skills. Christian's parents are told that he could be raised in a sensory-friendly environment that would help him lead a normal life, but his militaristic father (Robert C. Treveiler) rejects that idea right away. "The world is not a sensory-friendly place," he says, instead opting to train Christian in the art of self-defense. The family is quickly divided by his father's tough love style, as Christian and his brother's mother leaves them at a young age. Christian and his brother travel the world, gaining experience in obscure martial arts and honing their self-defense skills.


Later in life, Christian (Affleck) is working as an accountant for ZZZ Accounting in Illinois. He's still a socially awkward person, but he's able to get by and handle his business. However, there's something strange about Christian's dealings. He has connections with some of the most dangerous people on the planet, which catches the eye of Federal investigator Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who is hellbent on catching him. Wolff is capable of uncooking the books for gangsters, assassins, and drug cartels before escaping without a trace, a skill that has made him very, very wealthy. When Christian is called in to uncook the books and find a missing sum of money for businessman Lamar Black (John Lithgow), he'll embark on a dangerous adventure that will lead him to some incredibly unexpected places. With the help of the mild-mannered Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), Christian will uncover a conspiracy and do his best to get them both out alive.

To be quite honest, with this synopsis I probably made The Accountant sound more coherent than it actually is. This film has an incredibly weak and flimsy story, a narrative that amounts to a whole lot of "Who cares?" The stakes are never clearly defined and neither is the film's main scenario. As the story progressed, I found myself asking "Why are they doing this?" and "Who's trying to kill who?" at pretty much every turn. The villains are weak as well, lacking any sense of showmanship or terror. I guess it's meant to be a surprise as to who the villain ends up being, so I won't spoil that here. But when you reach the final destination in The Accountant, I guarantee that you'll be disappointed. For a film that has clear Jason Bourne/James Bond aspirations, there's a surprising lack of fun and tension and a severe dearth of quality action scenes. Affleck's Wolff is a cold-blooded killer who takes out people with startling effectiveness, so it's a shame that we don't get the ludicrous action scenes that this movie deserves.


Instead, we're stuck with an incoherent, cookie-cutter plotline, and a bunch of characters that I didn't care about in the slightest. Seriously, I don't think I could explain why half of these characters are in the movie in the first place. J.K. Simmons' Ray King is probably at the forefront of the film's problems, simply because his story is both directionless and totally superfluous to the narrative. At first, you assume that King and Wolff will cross paths at some point- after all, that's usually how these movies work. But as the story moves forward, that never happens. Director Gavin O'Connor does a pivot and somehow connects Christian and Ray's past experiences together, hoping for some kind of symbolic statement on what Christian values in life. This would all make a little bit of sense if Christian and Ray met in the actual events of the movie, but they don't. Instead, I was left wondering why Ray was even in the movie. Anna Kendrick's Dana has a more explicit purpose in the film, but it's still a mystery to me as to why she disappears halfway through only to pop up again once all the drama is done. Her and Affleck's scenes together are some of the best of the movie, and I would have loved to see the two of them go through this buddy spy adventure. But in the end, that never happens.

The supporting cast is strong and prestigious, but they struggle with a difficult script at times as well. John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jon Bernthal all have substantial roles, and some fare better than others. Lithgow plays a robotics executive and does an okay job, but his character is majorly underwritten. Tambor is Wolff's mentor behind bars, the man who teaches him everything about the world of criminal bookeeping. It's a role that plays almost like a cameo, and while Tambor is solid as usual, it almost feels like a waste of his talents to be in this movie. Finally, Bernthal's character is almost entirely useless until the end, but the actor chews up the scenery, carrying a few scenes almost on his own. In terms of our lead trio, Affleck, Kendrick, and Simmons are all fine. Affleck is surprisingly convincing as Wolff, Kendrick gives off her usual dorky charm, and Simmons, well, he's J.K. Simmons. He's great.


The Accountant's murky, confusing story is a problem, but the bigger issue may be the absolutely ludicrous twists and turns that occur near the end of the film. I had read that there were some wild plot shifts during the final act, and yet I had no idea that they'd be this ridiculous. I'll try to avoid spoilers here, but The Accountant falls into the trap of trying to connect everything, which is still a baffling choice. One advertisement billed this film as "Jason Bourne meets The Usual Suspects" which.....no. It's not that. This is not a mystery movie, and the fact that The Accountant plays out its third act like it's some kind of epic family saga makes no sense. These are some of the dumbest twists that I've ever seen, which is really saying something. They're the kind of revelations that will make you shake your head and laugh out loud, two things that you never want to do in an otherwise "serious" film.

Established as one of the major "prestige" options for this October, The Accountant instead emerges as a disappointing, absurd, and mostly tedious action film. The concept is great, but the execution is poor. It's easy to blame director Gavin O'Connor for this misfire, but I certainly feel that writer Bill Dubuque had a major role as well. No matter how you spin it, this is a movie that just doesn't work. Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and J.K. Simmons are all solid in a movie that does them no favors whatsoever. A basic story riddled with outlandish twists and incoherence sinks The Accountant, despite a ton of raw potential. After good box office receipts, there's a chance for this to become one of Affleck's major franchises. If they do decide to create a follow-up, they're gonna need a much better story to make it work.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)


Image Credits: Joblo, Coming Soon

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