Another day, another Quaker film on the silver screen. Gavin O’Connor, the director of new action–thriller The Accountant, attended Penn from 1983–1986 and came back in 1991 to finish up his sociology degree. He broke into the filmmaking scene with his 1999 com–dram Tumbleweeds, and has since been honing his craft of making muscular action movies including 2011’s Warrior and last year’s Jane Got a Gun.
The Accountant is a work in the same sleek and brawny vein. It follows Christian Wolff, played by Ben Affleck, as a modest number–cruncher living in Middle America. He served a stint in prison, where he was schooled by an inmate in how to correct fraudulent account histories and given the contact information for a network of international criminal organizations. He amasses a fortune that he funnels through his accounting front and leaves in airstream in a storage unit, while living a nondescript life in suburbia. But his consulting services tip off the US Treasury Department, who begin snooping into his life while he begins a dangerous audit of a robotic prosthetics company called Living Robotics.
Much of the film is built on slow–reveal flashbacks of Christian’s tumultuous relationship with his father and his coping with high–functioning autism. In many aspects, his disorder is the central driver of the film; the reason behind both his accounting genius and his father bringing him up to fight like a mercenary. It’s about how he navigates this internal difference, which is posed as something he can and should conquer without negotiation.
This father–son relationship and its portrayals of near abuse give the audience the deepest insight into what formed Christian as a character and led him to this self–imposed austerity. This same character duality is reflected in everyone he comes across in his financial adventures, including the Treasury Department analysts hot on his trail and the corporate managers at the company he’s consulting. But at times, the characters morally unravel in such a rapid succession that it becomes difficult for them to stay grounded in their motivations.
Sprinkled in as welcome release throughout are deadpan humorous moments, much of which draw their punch from the comedy of a neutered looking accountant curb stomping people. O'Connor explains that many of these were ad–libbed by Affleck, and he was grateful for their final inclusion in the film. If he didn’t display such agency as a character, Christian would be both the plot’s vehicle and its main joke.
The film works best in the instances when it veers away from classic action or thriller tropes. It would have been so sweet, though, I guess, if Chris had ignited a fiery short–lived relationship with Dana Cummings, the junior analyst at Living Robotics, played by Anna Kendrick, who discovered the hiccup that Christian has been called in to audit. Despite its weaknesses, The Accountant works best as a puzzle movie, so well so sometimes that the action seems grossly misplaced in comparison to its smarter moments.