The plot of The Accountant is beyond convoluted, yet it all boils down to a simple, crowd-pleasing formula: Autistic accountant kicks ass. The movie is wildly ambitious, profoundly clueless and pretty damn entertaining, when it doesn't just feel offensive to your intelligence.
Directed by Gavin O'Connor (Warrior) and scripted by Bill Dubuque (The Judge), The Accountant could be used as a master class in how not to write a screenplay. It's jammed so tight with exposition that, when a particular character fails to expound on his backstory, we can be sure that backstory will receive a dramatic reveal down the line.
The titular accountant is Christian Wolff — played by Ben Affleck, who seems to equate autism with a lack of facial expression. Wolff operates a modest business out of a midwestern strip mall, and a far more lucrative one — "uncooking the books" for the world's biggest criminal organizations — out of an Airstream in his backyard. Trained in martial arts, he spends his non-number-crunching hours in sniping practice and ogling priceless works of art he stores in his hideout. He self-medicates with Zoloft and sensory overload to keep the more obvious manifestations of his condition at bay.
There's potential here for a character study, even if Affleck's performance is far less compelling than Christian Bale's portrayal of a similar character in The Big Short. But then Dubuque tacks on an elaborate procedural plotline that is reminiscent of those high-budget serial-killer dramas of the 1990s.
While Wolff takes a job tracking down financial malfeasance at a robotics company, a U.S. Treasury bigwig (J.K. Simmons) sends a young agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to hunt for the elusive accountant. Rather than simply doing their jobs, these characters sit around and unpack their deepest motivations, just to make sure we don't miss any themes. Then there's the mysterious hit man (Jon Bernthal) who pops in to lecture his victims on the evils of pursuing the profit motive at all costs.
The script keeps hammering at its messages — family is everything, vigilante justice is necessary, neurodiversity has value — even as it attempts to dazzle us with twist after implausible twist. Like the serial killer in those (Bill) Clinton-era procedurals, Wolff is a living puzzle that everyone is trying desperately to decode. When the pieces fall into place, however, the picture reveals not a genius psychopath but something equally Hollywood: a troubled superhero.
That's right: The Accountant is a stealth superhero movie. While Wolff is a mere man, he arguably has more special powers than Batman, if fewer gadgets. His backstory — laboriously unveiled in flashbacks — involves learning to embrace morally guided violence as the only route to self-realization. And, by the end of the film, virtually everyone else on screen has accepted him as the hero this harsh world deserves.
No surprise, then, if The Accountant's well-meaning postscript about the human potential of people on the autism spectrum falls a little flat. While movies should certainly explore and celebrate that potential, Wolff doesn't realize his in particularly believable ways. Instead, the film simply dumps every cliché of the brilliant eccentric into a blender with every cliché of the stoic action hero.
The Accountant is propulsive and rarely boring, but the filmmakers would have done well to take their creation less seriously. Unlike Super, another movie about a "real-life superhero," The Accountant espouses the comic-book notion of purifying violence without really questioning it. I found myself wishing Hollywood could envision an empowerment of the underdog that doesn't involve sharpshooting and krav maga. Bale's accountant character was no hero, but he brought global banks to their knees without throwing a single punch.