Review by dara mcwade
Director Gavin O'Connor's latest, The Accountant, is not a subtle film. However, anyone going to see a film about an accountant with assassin training that cooks books for international criminals probably isn't expecting Gone With the Wind. What the film does deliver is a fun rollercoaster ride that shines when focusing on its lead character Christian Wolff, played by an admirably committed Ben Affleck, but loses its footing when it follows characters elsewhere. It's a fun if forgettable film that would go by unnoticed were it not for its most controversial element: its treatment of autism.
As an action film, The Accountant delivers. While there are less action scenes than fans of the genre may be expecting, the action that is there is sleekly shot and ruthlessly efficient, paying close attention to character. I always get a little giddy when I see a film fight or action scene that informs character, and Christain Wolff's methodical fighting style and actions inform our knowledge of the character. He chants a nursery rhyme when in positions of high stress, and the action almost forms a rhythm around it. The fighting isn't flashy; there are more silenced headshots than big explosions, but the direction manages to keep it snappy and exciting.
Less snappy and exciting is the editing, and some extraneous characters subplots. The film begins to limp whenever it moves focus from its central trio of characters, the titular accountant, Anna Kendrick's love interest and the mysterious assassin played by Netflix Punisher Jon Bernthal. Bernthal can make a conversation with a barn door exciting, but while his backstory is easy to guess within moments, the film insists on playing coy about it, an unfortunate choice that was more boring than suspenseful. Anna Kendrick's love interest and fellow accountant also threatens to take the narrative off the rails, but manages to stay in the lines thanks to Kendrick's always welcome and likable presence. Her relationship with Affleck has real chemistry, and brings out more shades in his character.
Far less successful in making subplots work however in an uncharacteristically bored JK Simmons trying to infuse a little intrigue into a rote subplot as a Treasury agent hunting Wolff down. The scenes fail to connect to either the audience or the plot of the film, existing mostly to shine a light on Wolff's backstory. Any scene that focuses on Simmons or his blackmailed underling played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson is an opportunity to close your eyes and grab a few winks. Such waste of JK Simmon's intense energy should be a crime. John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor also appear in bit roles, and while Tambor manages to make his few minutes of screentime work, building a rapport with Affleck quickly, Lithgow is completely wasted, immersed in the more procedural aspects of the narrative.
What surprised me most was the portrayal of autism, which is quite sensitive and positive. Hollywood has come a long way since Dustin Hoffman insulted neurodiverse audiences and families the world over with Rain Man, and while the concept of an autistic assassin may scream "insensitive", Affleck refuses to reduce Wolff into the stereotype it might seem. Instead, the film offers an entirely plausible scenario as to how Wolff became the man he is, his personality more shaped by his militaristic father's prescribed "treatment" of his autism than the autism itself. The film even presents alternative treatments to help children with developmental disorders learn to participate fully in the world, with a home that caters to each child's specific needs and helps them function.
Christian’s relationship to the home however opens up one of the film's most lingering issues: does the film condone what he does? Is Wolff's role as a criminal and killer acceptable due to the demons of his past and his moral code? The film ignores the moral conflict of its lead in pursuit of a more easily digestible narrative, and shies away from the depth that the film clearly wants to achieve. While you will have fun with the film, the film largely feels like a missed opportunity. Still, if all you're looking for is a few kicks (and punches), you could do a lot worse.