The Accountant – Review (***)

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While it doesn’t even begin to live up to the enormous promise laid forth at the outset, this enticingly strange dramatic thriller sees Ben Affleck bring his A-game as he plays one of the year’s most uniquely beguiling protagonists.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an autistic forensic accountant who helps handle the books for numerous criminal enterprises, while also demonstrating a preternatural talent for combat. His financial work inevitably attracts the attention of the Treasury Department’s Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), who plans to take him down with the remaining time before his retirement kicks in.

The Accountant is such a difficult to quantify film, largely missold in its marketing as a slick action thriller, when really it’s a much slower, more character-driven effort that, most surprisingly of all, actually has a lot to do with accounting, more so than it does shooting and killing (though there’s a lot of that too).

Most fascinating is the script’s nuanced approach to its protagonist, his autism frequently resulting in anti-social exchanges with those around him that alternate between hilarious (and the film’s in on the joke too) and in fact quite sad. Given the film’s rather amorphous tone, it’s impressive that Affleck manages to encompass so many facets of mood, and as such he’s the easy highlight here, substantially better than just about everything else.

Plot-wise, you couldn’t really call the core crime yarn generic, though it is fairly muddled and straight-up messy at times, resulting in potential audience confusion and an overt reliance on exposition dumps that kill the pacing stone-dead. Most egregious is a laughably superfluous hotshot analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) working with King to track Wolff, and the movie could easily trim her non-character with zero consequence to the shell narrative.

That’s the real issue, here; writer Bill Dubuque has sprung for a sprawling ensemble movie but spread himself and his characters too thin. Various players, including Affleck and his perky pal played by Anna Kendrick, disappear for scenes at a time with only a cursory level of explanation, and a lot of the smaller characters in particularly feel fatally underserved.

Still, though it’s a deeply flawed piece of work, that star performance is an easy sell, while Simmons, Kendrick and Jon Bernthal provide solid support, and the pic does a good job balancing its character aspects with its bursts of violence (even though the trailers have unfortunately mis-marketed the drama-to-action ratio).

A little disappointing given the potential, but still a decent sit.

***

The Accountant is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas November 4th

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