2 hours, 8 minutes
The condition of autism has gone through a lot of ups and downs in this country over the last couple of decades. The first time it really came to the forefront of people’s imaginations, at least in a pop culture sense, was in 1988’s “Rain Man,” where Tom Cruise uses his brother’s disability/super power to count cards and win big in Vegas. Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for that role, and the country became aware that autistic people both existed and were weird super-geniuses.
Imagine the disappointment a typical family might feel upon discovering that their autistic child would spend far more time trying to get along in the world than driving classic cars and hitting it rich. In the intervening years, autism has been defined by different syndromes, and then not. It’s been said to be caused by vaccines, though that’s been thoroughly debunked. Autistic people in movies and on TV have been portrayed as quirky, bizarrely focused and always engaged in a kind of struggle to find their place. Since “Rain Man,” the presence of autistic characters has become more and more prevalent, and said characters have been becoming more and more in line with reality.
That is, until this week’s bloody thriller, “The Accountant,” where our hero is more John Wick than Rain Man, but is still possessed of mysterious powers.
Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, the anti-social accountant of the title. The film reveals Christian’s troubled past slowly and by bits, which works mostly, though by the time a reveal comes along, you’re already there, and have been.
All we know at the outset, however, is that Wolff is difficult and has real connection issues, besides the fact that he’s a whiz with finance. Such a whiz, it turns out, that he is able to work for the shadiest of the shady — dictators, kingpins, sheiks — to find their money when it’s been stolen. Wolff’s holistic understanding of numbers allows him to “follow the money” better than anyone.
What we learn, as we go on, however, is that Christian Wolff is hiding an even deeper secret — that he is a complete and utter killing machine. Turns out he has weapons upon weapons, a drawer full of ready passports and secret identities, and a mysterious handler that provides him with one lucrative job after another. The current job is legitimate, for once — a robotics/prosthetics firm has had some money go missing, as noticed by a junior employee in the accounting department. Wolff is brought in to find the leak, but things are never as simple as they seem. Soon, all of the accountant’s skills will be brought to bear, and not just the ones involving an adding machine.
It’s not that this movie wasn’t entertaining — it was. It’s just that for a movie with a novel premise, it sure goes in some conventional directions. I was expecting “The Accountant” to be a little scary. Not a horror movie per se, but maybe more “Talented Mr. Ripley” and less “Jason Bourne.” There are moments where you think it’s going there, but it never does.
I think what bothers me the most is the fact that the movie feels a little exploitative — a fact that I’m sure the filmmakers would deny. Certainly the goal of the film is to paint autism as less a disability and more a different, yet valid, way of thinking and processing. That’s fine — I happen to agree.
But in the film, Affleck feels less autistic, and more depressed. And the through-line, that autistic people are imbued with secret power, feels almost as bad as if you suggested that all autistic people were completely incapable of taking care of themselves.
As much potential as the script has, the plot has some major problems. There are a couple of treasury agents on the accountant’s trail, and while their motivation seems obvious, things get odd the further down the road the film goes. A massive exposition dump in the middle of the third act doesn’t help at all.
Actors Affleck, J.K. Simmons, and Anna Kendrick all do their best, and most of the time their best is good enough. But I never believed Affleck’s autistic portrayal. And the fact that he’s a super-killer is a little much.
Overall, I like Ben Affleck, and I think that when he’s good, he can be really good. But he doesn’t really elevate a bad movie the way some actors can. His mid-career shift to directing is exciting, though and he really seems to be good at it. I love “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Argo,” and his next, the Boston prohibition-era crime thriller “Live by Night” looks really good.
Maybe that’s where Affleck will gravitate. We can only hope, because “The Accountant,” while not bad, just doesn’t add up.
“The Accountant” is rated R for violence and language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.