Movie Review : The Accountant (2016)
Believe it or not, there was a Hollywood before superhero movies. They were considered for kids by dismissive, cigar smoking studio executives *. Kids who would grow to become us. But moviegoers have always worshiped one type of righteous crusader or another. Today it's masked men in computerized spandex. At a certain time, it was lone badasses who would stand up to injustice and kick maximum of asses per square inch, like Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. The Accountant belongs to that era, although I don't think it would've fared particularly well then. Because it's not fun or interesting and it doesn't really have an identity of its own.
The Accountant is Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) a certified public accountant and nighttime badass, who specializes in unveiling fraud within criminal organizations. He's also an art thief, I think. Anyway, he has a Jackson Pollock painting locked in a trailer that's locked inside a storage unit, but that's only loosely explained. Wolff faces the challenge of his career when he's hired to uncover a 61 million dollar embezzlement for a company called Living Robotics, which is not a criminal organization. But bodies curiously start to drop while Wolff is investigating. Oh, and did I mention Wolff is autistic? Because he couldn't be a military trained accounting wizard and a martial arts expert if he wasn't.
Can we please stop fetishizing autism in movies? It's a condition, not a superpower. I grew up with an autistic dude who would chase down people who said : "Bazooka Joe's dead" to him. The Accountant's depiction of autism is laughably shallow. There are flashbacks of Wolff's childhood where he looked genuinely stricken, but all it is in the context of the movie are scenes where he plays loud music, uses flashing lights and rolls a stick down his shinbone lke thai boxers to "inure himself to sensory overload". I'm supposed to believe someone without any support like him, can just will down his autism? C'mon.
So, Christian Wolff is badass, but he is in the most boring and ubiquitous way possible. He has no flaw whatsoever to exploit **. An autistic person usually has rigid routines and bizarre proclivities that make them targets for random bullies, but not in The Accountant because Wolff is such a fuckin' ghost, right? It's not how it works. John Rambo was a killing machine, but he suffered from severe PTSD and an abusive relationship to armed forced that constantly brought him back to war. Dirty Harry had a temper that made him a pariah and exposed him to danger. Badass characters are fun, but they need to be characters. Christian Wolff isn't. He's an unhealthy fantasy.
Perhaps the most jarring thing about The Accountant is how it tries to frame itself as morally subversive. It sides with the murderous accountant, rather than with the benevolent CEO of a company that builds robotized prosthetics for paralyzed people and amputees. Lamar Blackburn (Jon Lithgow) is objectively the good guy here. Neither director Gavin O'Connor or screenwriter Bill Dubuque seem to understand that. His only transgression is to have hired Wolff to work for him in the first place. If he hadn't done that, there would be no movie and Living Robotics would just keep making everyone lives' better. They're not a greedy Wall Street type of company, they actually help people. The Accountant is not morally subversive, it's idiotic.
I can see already how The Accountant was pitched to studio executives: "He's that military trained shooter, martial arts experts... but he's an accountant working from a strip mall. But it's not the kicker.... the kicker is that he's autistic."
"So it's exactly the same as, let's say, Jason Bourne. But he has a boring job and he's autistic?"
"Yes, it's Jason Bourne meets your miserable dad."
Stapling a weird concept to a well-established genre isn't originality. It's fake, gimmicky originality. It's not legitimately blending two things together, just like people putting ketchup on their morning toasts aren't coming up with a clever blend either. The Accountant is mostly remembered as generic action movie two years after its release, but if you dig a little deeper into what the movie is saying and standing for, it becomes slightly insulting for the audience. Neither its screenplay or its driving themes have any legs. It's worth a surgical watch if you're interested in the what-not-to-do aspects of screenwriting, but its entertainment value is close to zero otherwise. When it's not bland, it's idiotic and when it's not idiotic, it's too entangled in its own plotlines to figure out what's going on.
* What? Leave my imaginary alone.
** I'm not going to spoil this detail, but when you learn who the antagonist is, it becomes hard to forgive.