‘The Accountant’ Features Some Great Acting


Occasionally a movie surprises me. I did not have high hopes for The Accountant, but it turned out to be an enjoyable picture. It was not memorable; the plot had a few huge holes, and I figured out the “twists” long before they happened. But it provided a couple of hours of entertainment, and that’s saying a lot these days.

Accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) works out of a strip mall in a small Illinois town helping local residents and living a quiet, far-too-ordered life. It is obvious from the start that he does not relate to people, even while helping them. He has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. He is also a math savant, able to take an enormous amount of data and make accounting sense of it.

He is hired by a huge biotech firm, one creating advanced prosthetics, to settle issues raised by Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) a young finance person at the company. Wolff meets with Rita Blackburn (Jean Smart), the chief operating officer, as well as brother and boss Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), who wants answers even though he “is not interested in money.”

On a parallel track, top government agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) forces young analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to track down “the accountant” who has worked for drug cartels and gun lords. There is also another hit man, Brax (Jon Bernthal), who has a great time killing off witnesses.

There are a lot of twists and turns, most of which eventually lead to important revelations. At the end, there is a very sweet epilogue, which essentially is a plea for toleration for those emotionally different.

This is a violent movie, to say the least. The death count is high, not as bad as Magnificent Seven, but there are a lot of deaths. By far, the best thing about it is that the acting is really good. Most of the actors get a chance to really do some emoting, and all do it well.

Ben Affleck, not known as an emotional actor, is effective perhaps because he does not have to show much emotion. He manages, however, to demonstrate a modicum of emotion, more in rage at not being able to complete his audit than in real feelings for the adorable, dependent Dana. He dominates the film with his presence, essentially being the target for others’ feelings rather than someone who shows his own feelings. He is, in essence, a violent version of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man.

Simmons gives a strong performance. He comes across as both tough and driven. In a wonderfully emotional flashback scene, we see why he wants to learn more about the accountant. His acting in that one scene alone might win him another Oscar nomination. In a movie driven more by action than emotions, during his response to a question of what kind of agent he has been, what type of man, and finally what kind of father, raw emotions fill the screen. At that moment, he is everyman.

The rest of the cast is strong as well. I liked Addai-Robinson as the agent. She made a role that could have been a cardboard cypher into a real person. Even better, writer Bill Dubuque does not make her into a typical genius tracker. It is clear that hard work is necessary, and you empathize with her.

Kendrick is fine as Dana; her perkiness is fun to watch working against Affleck’s stolid demeanor. It is almost painful to watch her try to reach Wolff, seemingly fail, while in the end making a real mark on him. Smart and Lithgow are two strong veterans who handle their roles with ease. Bernthal is fun to watch as the hitman; he has a great way about him, almost the opposite of Affleck. He teases, he pushes, he seems to have a great time. At the climactic scene, he also demonstrates his dramatic chops.

Using someone on the autism spectrum as the fulcrum of a movie was a real risk, but director Gavin O’Connor handles those issues very well. He even uses flashbacks effectively, something rarely done.

This is a strong, tough movie. The violence would be tough for young kids, particularly since it is very direct, while almost video game-like in its quality. But it provided a good time at the movies, and that is a good reason to see it.