Gunshot. Car horn. “Wait, you have to call it in!” Bloody bodies on the sidewalk. More gunshots. More bodies inside a restaurant. More gunshots. The sounds of bodies falling to the floor. A final cry of pain. Finally, the shadow of a gun being pressed to someone’s head.
These are the first images and sounds of The Accountant. In these opening minutes alone, you’re grabbed instantly by kinetic camerawork and stealthy motion, as the man lending the audience his point of view sees and hears what’s going on around and above him. However, none of this gives you the full picture of what The Accountant has in store for you; instead, you’re given merely a part of the whole. A puzzle, if you will – a motif which lasts the entire length of the film.
We’re not given the entire story all at once; instead, Bill Dubuque’s screenplay whizzes and darts around us, filling us in with background information when the time is right for us to know. The film is a lot of things at once: a corporate thriller, a “girl who saw something she wasn’t supposed to see and now she’s gonna die” story, and a John Woo heroic bloodshed film, with dashes of comedy thrown in on top for good measure. (Seriously, I wasn’t expecting full belly-laughs from this film, yet here they were.) All these disparate ingredients means it’s another Knight and Day, the fairly forgettable Tom Cruise film from 2010, right? Quite the opposite.
Everything in this film works towards the film’s story, not merely to make its stars look good. It’s utilitarian in its style, but by no means rote; action beats happen where they’re supposed to happen, but they feel natural and surprising, supported well by the story surrounding these scenes. It’s rare to me when both story and action match each other note-for-note without either getting in the way of or overpowering the other, and The Accountant does this in fine, understated style. Director Gavin O’Connor – most known to me for his film about the 1980 Olympic Men’s Hockey team, Miracle – has a knack for the vicious and the dynamic, but he also handles quieter scenes with just as much savvy, breathing an intelligence into what could have otherwise been a dumb “Rain Man meets Mercury Rising” flick.
In a flashback, a military officer (Robert C. Treveiler) reads an Indonesian newspaper while his two sons take a brutal, full-contact martial arts lesson from an imposing teacher who repeatedly fends off their attacks and sends them crashing to the ground, bloodied and bruised. The teacher turns to the man, saying the kids have had enough; however, their father is dissatisfied, saying each person has layers to their endurance, and it’s the teacher’s job to peel those layers back and keep on peeling. The younger of the two – a glasses-wearing, high-functioning autistic child – stands up and beckons the teacher to continue, even though the blood continues to pour from various wounds on his face.
These layers insulate Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) – the aforementioned autistic child all grown up – from his everyday life. He starts as a shady figure for whom Treasury Department Agent Ray King (J. K. Simmons) and Treasury Analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) launch a two-person investigation due to Wolff’s bookkeeping for drug cartels, the mob, and various other unsavory personae. Not one picture they have shows his entire face; he has no record, no fingerprints, nothing to tie to anyone anywhere. He might as well be a ghost. Yet not 700 miles away in the outskirts of Chicago, Christian sits in his nondescript strip mall tax and accounting office, hearing a story of woe from a farmer and his wife who can’t pay their tax bill. But when he sees the wife’s homemade necklace, he starts divining a plan for them which makes them go from downtrodden to all smiles in one edit.
His social skills are a shambles, but he has managed to learn how to interact on at least a basic level with others. Most of the time, we see Affleck playing Christian with a poker-faced look he carries throughout the film, taking in what he sees and not betraying one bit of what’s going on behind his eyes. It’s not a dead-eyed look, but it’s not quite “there,” if you can dig it. Only after he meets Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) do we see changes starting to happen – his layers start to peel away, his expressions soften, and he actually manages to eke out a few genuine smiles and laughs.
The reason these two meet is that he’s been hired by technology wizard Lamar Black (John Lithgow) to find his company’s missing money, which Dana – a low-level accountant in Black’s company – has discovered seemingly by accident. Almost as soon as they begin, they’re hunted by a nameless assassin (Joe Bernthal) and his team of mercenaries intent on keeping the theft quiet. It’s not the most original story in the world, and it’s not without its problems, but the script’s cleverness and the strong performances throughout thankfully make us overlook these minor issues. We grow attached to Christian and his plight, especially after seeing his childhood depicted in flashbacks. And when the other side of his character is established – that of a ruthlessly efficient killer – we’re still in his corner, as he’s shown to be more of a protector than an out-and-out assassin.
The Accountant is damn fine viewing on a Saturday night, when you’re looking for an action movie with more smarts and a surprising heart. It’s not a raucous barn-burner like the Lethal Weapon series, nor is it a meditation on the nature of killers like In Bruges. Anchored by Ben Affleck’s indomitable performance and a thick script, the film lies somewhere between the hyper-realism of the Jason Bourne oeuvre and the pace of John Wick, the latter of which caught audiences off-guard with just enough of a story to get the wheels moving and the action popping. The Accountant stocks a little more in the story department, and its many payoffs are deserving of your attention.