Release Date: October 14th, 2016
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and Cynthia Addai-Robinson
In The Accountant, Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an mathematical savant who consults criminal organizations on their finances. He is trained in several forms of martial combat, weaponry, and tactical espionage, and despite being seen in photos with some of the world's most notorious terrorists, dictators, and drug lords, he is a complete unknown to the U.S. government.
Also, he has high-functioning autism. Which presents the question: Is this really where we want to go with this? But I'll get to that in a moment.
The Accountant is made up of several stories revolving around Affleck's character, the most prominent being Wolff's "origin." We are given numerous flashbacks of his upbringing, interspersed with the main plot of the film concerning Wolff's newest and actual legitimate job of helping a high-tech prosthetics company work through some financial discrepancies. These issues were discovered by one of their accountants Dana Cummings (Ana Kendrick), and CEO Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) wants it taken care of as quickly and quietly as possible before the company goes public. At the same time, Wolff is being tracked by Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), head of financial crimes at the Treasury Department alongside analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Also, there's an assassin (Jon Bernthal) that has been hired to threaten individuals and kill others involved with Living Robotics, and he has a cadre of mercenaries backing him up. Who hired them? What is their purpose? What is the financial discrepancy? Will King and Medina find out Wolff's identity? Why is there so much going on?
If you can't tell, this movie is busy. There are a lot of flashbacks and several character threads being followed at the same time, almost all of which revolve around Chris Wolff in some way or another. These help put the pieces together of who Wolff is and why he does what he does, as well as lend itself to several twists and surprises (one of which I saw coming a mile away, and another that took me by complete surprise). The issue here is that the film sort of lumbers about in its own direction every once and awhile, feeling uneven and unfocused. I'm actually surprised how easily the plots all tie together in the end.
But what surprised me the most was the fact that our genius/assassin morally ambiguous protagonist is autistic. Generally speaking, autism and other mental and social disorders are not given a fair shake in Hollywood. It's either insensitive by going too far, or pandering like an after-school special. There's nothing necessarily incorrect about Affleck's depiction of Wolff, and we see several flashbacks that show the difficulty his family faced in trying to work with his outbursts. After his mother leaves the family, his father takes it upon himself to raise him with as much discipline as possible, but also subjecting him to extreme and almost torturous conditions to "toughen him up," including training him fight, or forcing him to beat up kids who had hurt him. In his adulthood, Wolff submits himself to a trio of stimuli every evening that would have caused him to lash out in his youth; flashing lights, loud noise, and pain, to prepare himself to deal with the struggles of the "normal" world. These are not, of course, accepted practices for helping someone with autism, and we can see how they've negatively affected Wolff's character.
But back to my original question: is this what we want to go with? Is this how we want to portray an autistic action hero? I'm not going to fault Affleck for his performance: Christian Wolff is a complex, nuanced, and thoughtful character to the extent that you can get in an action thriller, and while I never felt that he went "too far" in his portrayal, I'm not someone who can say for sure whether the role was insensitive or not. In my opinion, it seems empowering more than anything, and I've yet to see any huge outcry against the film, so they must be doing something correct.
Despite my questions about Wolff's representation and the multiple plot lines, I did enjoy The Accountant. It had a little bit of intrigue, some cat-and-mouse detective moments, a nice balance of humor and drama, and solid acting from an incredibly talented cast. I wish we saw more of Wolff's life working for criminals and some more action sequences, but I don't think the movie will be disappointing for viewers looking for a different experience in their action-thrillers.