There’s a good film in here somewhere. As it stands now, it’s a good-looking, generally well-acted, occasionally very confusing jumble. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, probably best known for Miracle, The Accountant is the story of an autistic accountant with ninja skills who makes a lot of money for very bad people, and is frighteningly good at forensic accounting. (That’s about as much as anyone should know before seeing it.) It’s also a film about human connection, brothers, questionable parenting, the autism spectrum, cutting edge computer technology, and the odd combination of greed and altruism. It ultimately doesn’t work (almost tempted to say it doesn’t add up, but I won’t go there….), and the parts definitely don’t come together for a completely satisfying whole. But it has its pleasures.
Chief among them is Anna Kendrick, playing a role that could have gone off in any number of wrong directions, but who provides the film’s only connection with the world that the rest of us live in. She’s real, funny, and cute in a way that never leaves the film behind. I wondered how her presence would work in a dramatic action film with edge. Turns out very well indeed.
Jean Smart is also in the film, which got me curious as to how this underrated actress would fare. Turns out not well indeed. Not that she isn’t good; she’s just barely in the film at all.
Of course, most of the attention has been toward the talented director/OK actor Ben Affleck. Affleck’s persona is kind of dully intelligent, with “dull” taking on both major meanings. He’s a strong physical presence, which works well with the action scenes. And he knows how (generally) to create a technical performance of a character with limited and learned social skills and a deeply hidden inner life. In this case, we don’t really get a hint of the inner life, which is characteristic of this actor’s performances. It’s a necessarily minimalistic performance, so the occasional moves into humor are both a blessed relief and at the same time a bit unbelievable. In recent years, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) have shown us how to combine a brilliant technical performance with a lockdown on the character underneath the external learned traits. Here, Affleck (about to be upstaged in the acting department by his brother) shows us the difficulties of doing that.
Also a mixed blessing is Jon Bernthal. He swirls around his character in the first part of the film, when he has to be a strange combination of threatening and reasonable. Later, when his character is thinking and acting more straightforwardly, he is the scary menace we all know and love. Acclaimed and talented actor John Lithgow has a minor and eventually irritating role as a forceful leader who ends up repeatedly asking, “What’s going on?” or “What’s happening now?” as a kind of audience stand-in that robs him of his authority and the viewer of his sanity.
J.K. Simmons gets another opportunity to show us his range (see Whiplash) with a character we’re not sure at first that we can trust (everyone is double- and triple-crossing everyone else, and deceiving everyone in sight, so we’re often not sure of anyone’s trustworthiness). The film eventually leans more on him, his past and his current situation more than we think, and Simmons’ innate connection to his audience helps hold the second half of the film together.
The various strands of the film’s layered narrative are ultimately explained toward the end, though often awkwardly and in a rushed manner. While providing some answers to the confusion we’re thrown into for far too long, the revelations come too quickly, too clumsily and too late. But there is nothing else out there like this, combining accounting with autism, money laundering and deception on every level. As a work of art, it fails. As entertainment, its decent acting and narrative convolutions may work for those who love numbers and violence in equal measure.