From the Archives: The Accountant review

From the Archives: The Accountant review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

The Accountant is three movies. The first is a police procedural in which a young law enforcement agent with a sordid history is trying to capture a mysterious corporate espionage artist. The second is a light-ish romantic thriller in which an Asperger’s afflicted accountant uses the strength of a new romance to overcome his social difficulties and bring down corporate criminals. The third, and my favorite, is about a mysterious accountant whose Aspergian superpowers (sorry) allow him to not just cook the books of the world’s most powerful criminals, but also enact Jason Bourne-style violence and mayhem as needed. Each would be an interesting 90 minute move. Unfortunately, The Accountant attempts to mash all three into an overlong, meandering, and downright ridiculous mess. It’s also one of Ben Affleck’s finest performances. Enjoy the following attempt at a plot description, in which The Accountant is boiled down into the most basic of elements, but still manages to sound bananas: Christian Wolff (Affleck) is an accountant with Asperger’s Syndrome. This causes him to constantly seek stimuli, obsess over finishing tasks, and have a preternatural ability to crunch numbers. He runs a small CPA office during the day as a cover, but spends most of his time cooking the books for large criminal enterprises. He is hired by a robotics firm (run by a completely wasted John Lithgow) to see if their company’s numbers are legitimate. Meanwhile, a young wannabe government agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is blackmailed/hired by a Treasury agent (J.K. Simmons, as himself) to hunt down a mysterious hitman/accountant. When Wolff and a fellow accountant (Anna Kendrick) discover shady goings on at the company, a hitman (Jon Bernthal) is hired to take them out. And just when they were about to fall in love (bridging a creepy, multi-decade age gap)! Christian struggles with his current situation, his affliction, and haunting memories of a mysterious past which includes all of the following things: divorce, regular relocation due his father’s military career, violent adolescent rage outbursts, and a Japanese folk-tale martial arts training sequence.

Tired yet?


For the first act, it’s tough to tell precisely what tone the film is aiming for. The problem never goes away, but when the first tonal shift occurs, and the film leans toward being a pulpy, cheeseball thriller, much of the wishy-washy feeling of the first act is easily forgiven . . . until the film suddenly pulls back and pursues another angle. This happens every 20 minutes or so, and is punctuated by long expositional montages, most of which don’t have even the slightest relevance to the story. While the job of exposition is to provide the viewer with needed information, these cinematic anchor drops only serve to do the opposite, apparently for no reason at all.

The film’s refusal to commit to any one tone or style is likely an attempt to avoid cliches, but is ultimately its undoing. The failure to fully cook any one of the three movies contained within only leaves us with a bunch of messy ingredients on the counter, and nothing even remotely resembling a satisfying meal. Give me the most basic editing software (all I need is a cutting tool) and I can take this overlong slog and cut it into the slickest 90-minute genre flick you’ll ever see. Or I’ll make a decent police procedural. Or a charming, insular corporate thriller. All the footage is there, but each movie steps on the toes of the others to be seen, resulting in an ugly narrative heap.

And really, by the time we reach the ending, it’s tough to tell who the good guy is. The character who ends up being framed as the villain really isn’t that bad, relatively speaking, while Wolff is clearly a dangerous individual who should be under 24/7 weaponized supervision. The cops don’t seem to have succeeded in doing anything short of adding 40 minutes to the film’s runtime, and the lady in the theater behind me would not shut the hell up. She even got mad when politely asked to stop narrating the film. I digress.


The film is written by Bill Dubuque, who also wrote The Judge, another insane mashup of 3 undercooked movies, hindered by its own directionless ambition. A few questions for Mr. Dubuque:

– What function did the police serve at any point in this story? What did they accomplish by the end?

– What, exactly, does the accountant do? Is he hired because of his gift for killing, or was that a coincidence that came in handy?

– Why did you introduce Chekhov’s massive garage-mounted machine gun into the film as a silly gag, and then fail to utilize it?

– Why didn’t the accountant ever say the line “I just ran the numbers, and your number is up” before killing someone?

– Did you really think you could bookend the story at a school for developmentally disabled children as a way of hiding that the accountant is a legitimately dangerous psychopath?!?

– Why did you let the chatterbox behind me into the screening? Shouldn’t she be executed by a firing squad or something?

The Accountant commits the biggest sin a film can commit: showing potential and refusing to deliver. As I said before, the real shame of it is that Ben Affleck puts on a hell of a performance. Moreover, Christian Wolff has the potential to be one of cinema’s great characters. Given the right treatment, The Accountant could really excel. That there is a spreadsheet pun.

The Accountant opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site.

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