If you’re in the market for an action thriller that requires less brainpower from the audience than it does from its protagonist, then you can count on The Accountant. That said, if structure, pacing and narrative cohesion are important to your ticket-buying decision process, you’re out of luck on this one. The Accountant can be a lot of fun at times — and, for some, that’s more than enough to warrant a watch — but the film has some significant drawbacks that prevent me from giving it an unconditional recommendation.
My principle complaints with The Accountant don’t diminish the fact that the film largely hits its target, but those complaints are significant nonetheless. First of all, at two hours and eight minutes, this thing is just way, way too long. The story doesn’t necessitate anywhere near that kind of running time, and it’s such a structural mess that the extra padding only muddies the waters. More importantly, this is yet another piece of popular media that perpetuates the insane myth that autism can be some sort of superpower — a profoundly dangerous and disrespectful pattern that needs to stop. It may have been novel when Barry Levinson, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise started the trend 30 years ago, but little was known about autism spectrum disorders when Rain Man played theaters. With increasing advancements in the understanding and awareness of the condition, it seems hopelessly irresponsible for any filmmaker to portray autistic people in such a light. Depicting these people as superhuman is almost as deleterious as casting them in a subhuman way, as it reinforces the “otherness” of people on the spectrum — rather than showing them to be the complex and valuable individuals they actually are (even in the absence of any supernatural mathematical prowess).
The shortfall of The Accountant can predominantly be laid at the feet of writer Bill Dubuque, whose flashback framing device detracts from the story in ways that overshadow its modest contributions to character development. It’s difficult to justify the employment of nonlinear narrative elements when those out-of-sequence flashbacks are separated by so much screen time the audience either suspects the plot threads have been abandoned or forgets about them altogether. Add a few purported twist identity-reveals that are telegraphed so heavily they might as well have come from Western Union, and you have a script in need of a serious audit.
Director Gavin O’Connor fares a bit better, but not by much. Some of his fight sequences are solid, and there are a few inspired sight gags along the way, such as the “feeling faces” taken from cards used to teach autistic people to recognize facial emotional cues being repurposed on melons Ben Affleck’s character uses for target practice. However, there are some highly questionable directorial choices, such as a shot that visually analogizes him with a robot and a literal accounting montage that’s exactly as exciting as such a prospect sounds.
If you can overlook the film’s significant flaws and take it on its own terms, there’s a reasonably entertaining movie buried under the detritus. The film has a deadpan sense of humor that’s sorely lacking in most contemporary action fare, and Affleck’s superb timing sells many of these comedic elements when they almost certainly would’ve fallen flat in the hands of a lesser actor. Anna Kendrick and Jon Bernthal provide stellar support, breathing life into scenes that could easily have been dead on arrival. J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robbinson and Jeffery Tambor all deliver solid performances, but they’re given far too little room to breathe under the film’s infuriating structure and pacing.
Ultimately The Accountant never quite adds up to greatness, which is all the more frustrating in light of its numerous strengths. The film has a standout cast and a morally ambiguous sensibility that could’ve produced something truly noteworthy had the filmmakers taken a cue from their protagonist and focused on the details. Based on strong box office performance, a sequel seems almost as certain as death and taxes. While that prospect may not be quite as unpleasant as either, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.