The Accountant: When the sum of its parts doesn't add up

Winston Wu - October 14, 2016

With an all-star cast of Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K Simmons, and Jon Bernthal among others, The Accountant promises to deliver one of the most enthralling Action Thrillers of the year. Whether it does so, however, is debateable at best.

The Accountant's troubled main character, Christian Wolff, is brilliantly brought to life by Ben Affleck. Portraying a socially inept mathematical genius with Asperger's Syndrome who simultaneously excels at hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship is no easy feat, yet Affleck delivers on all fronts: his acute mannerisms and rituals; the disengagement in his blunt and monotonous way of speech accompanied by a striking deadness in his complexion; the cleanness and efficiency in his brutally cold style of combat; all contribute to a captivating performance. More than that, Affleck showcases a vulnerability in the multifaceted emotional core of Wolff that adds depth and substance "I have trouble socializing with other people - even though I want to" he remarks, conveying an intimate sense of helplessness. This is further depicted in one of the most visually entrancing scenes of the movie, where we see Wolff's ritual as he sits in a dark room with a blindingly bright blinking light and deafening heavy metal music, while he mechanically rolls his calf with a baseball bat until his alarm rings, he then duly stops to take his medication. This is outstandingly contrasted later when in the same setting when we see his distress as he lashes out violently, unable to keep his stern calmness as he furiously beats his own leg until the bat snaps.

Wolff's peculiar awkwardness made for surprisingly effective humor sprinkled throughout an otherwise weighty movie, as he continuously misses social cues in his interaction with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), his acquaintance turned love interest as they unearth a state-of-the-art robotics company's accounting discrepancy worth millions. Like other secondary characters in the movie, the part was played well by the actor, with Anna Kendrick bringing her usual gleeful performance and chemistry with Affleck that serves to humanize Christian Wolff. However, she disappears for a lengthy part as the movie progresses to make room for various sub-plots and flashbacks, which is where the movie suffers its downfalls.

The Accountant is far more plot-driven than your typical action thriller; unfortunately it misfires in its attempt at intricacy, instead becoming convoluted and unfocused. The meandering plots involving Wolff's pursuit of the truth behind the company's accounting ploy and subsequent conflict with Braxton (Jon Bernthal), the Treasury Department's chase on the Accountant, numerous flashbacks to Wolff's childhood and other moments of his past, as well as King's flashback and establishment of his fascination with the Accountant, proved excessive and unnecessarily so. This is especially true for Director King and Agent Medina's characters. While the actors do a fine job in their portrayals and there is some intention to flesh out the characters (namely the revelation of Medina's marred past in the beginning of the movie and King's flashback of a previous encounter with the Accountant towards the end), the entire sub-plot including King's flashback feels detached and added little to the overall story apart from justifying Wolff taking on the role at the company. In fact, the two never cross paths at all with Wolff, and scenes involving their investigation, which consisted mainly of conversations in offices and research on computers, simply detracted from the considerably more fascinating main character and dissipated whatever tension built up through his expedition. While Wolff's flashbacks succeeded in expanding his character and providing insight to his development into the Accountant, the placement of these scenes felt jarring at times and compromised the natural building of tension throughout.

The movie allievieates the heaviness of this plot towards the climax, where the main action sequences occur. Much like the Accountant himself, these scenes are neatly executed without over-the-top flair or style. In, particular, the sequence in which the Accountant single-handedly storms the house barricaded by Braxton is shot tidily; as the camera follows Wolff swiftly to capture his similarly orderly kills, the editing seamlessly transitions between Bernthal on the inside of the house and Affleck on the outside to elevate the tension. Unfortunately, this tension is resolved rather tamely with the movie's final revelation. While this is coherent with overall thematic setup, it was undoubtedly an anti-climax to a build-up which promised a much more thrilling conclusion; and while the subsequent resolution was smooth with almost no loose ends, one cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment and yearning The Accountant promised to be more than what it ultimately delivered, and it could have lived up to that promise by giving less.

Winston Wu

Winston Wu is an exchange student from University of Warwick in the UK, studying Finance at Wharton for the academic year. Apart from Film and TV, Winston enjoys watching and playing tennis and soccer (Arsenal supporter). His favorite genres of film are thrillers and comedies.