The Accountant

Posted on October 12, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Ben Affleck plays the title character in “The Accountant,” a man on the autism spectrum who has what clinicians call a “flat affect” and some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but also the math skills of a 93 petaflop computer and the martial arts skills of a Navy Seal who competes on weekends as an American Ninja Warrior.

Director Gavin O’Connor (the underseen gem “Warrior“) and screenwriter Bill Dubuque (the underseen “The Judge“) have concocted a twisty thriller with surprises up to the last minute. The crafty back-and-forth structure keeps the information just out of our reach until it is exactly the right moment for it to fall into place.

After a brief opening shoot-out, we go back in time to see the Wolff family. The parents are meeting with a specialist, who is explaining what it means to be gifted but not neuro-typical. The boy they are discussing is Christian (Seth Lee), who is speed-solving a jigsaw puzzle as his younger brother Brax (Jake Presley) watches. We are given three important pieces of information in this scene. First, Christian cannot handle not being able to finish the puzzle. Second, when the piece that fell off the table is located, we see it fit into place from underneath — he has been working on upside-down puzzle pieces, the blank underside rather than the picture.

Third, his parents do not agree on how to help him. His mother accepts the advice of the specialist, who says that Christian’s hyper-sensitivity to stimulation means that he should be protected from light and noise. But his father (Robert C. Treveiler), who is in the military, insists on the opposite. If light and noise bother Christian, “he needs more.”

We will learn more about the consequences of that disagreement later.

Christian grows up to be an accountant, operating out of a tiny office in a strip mall. (Is the name of his firm, ZZZZ, a reference to one of the most notorious accounting frauds of the 1980’s?). He advises a couple on how to use home office deductions to reduce their tax bill and shows no interest when the receptionist tries to fix him up with her daughter. He then takes on a big case, tracking down a missing $61 million at a company about to go public, where he meets Dana, the very bright young CPA who discovered the discrepancy in the financial reports (Anna Kendrick, lighting up the screen as always). But there is more to him, including a treasure trove that includes originals by Pollack and Renoir and a #1 Action Comic (first appearance of Superman, worth about $3 million), a torturous nightly ritual, a Siri-like virtual assistant who seems to know everything and some very serious guys with guns who are determined to kill Christian and Dana.

Meanwhile, a government official (JK Simmons) is trying to track down a mysterious figure who shows up in photos of some of the most dangerous people in the world, a guy who appears to be their…accountant. He blackmails a savvy young woman on his staff (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking him down. And a paid assassin (Jon Bernthal) efficiently deals with people he has been assigned to take care of, who may or may not be connected to all of this.

As he did with “Warrior,” O’Connor plays with the borders of genre. There are unexpected moments of humor (“We should go” turns out to be very funny when the tone and timing are right). And he knows how to make us feel for the characters, giving some heft to the puzzle and action. By the end of the film, we get the same satisfaction Christian does in seeing that last piece fit into place.

Parents should know that this film includes intense, sustained action-style violence involving adults and children with martial arts and guns, characters are paid assassins and criminals, fraud, very strong language, and parental abandonment.

Family discussion: What does it mean to be neuro-typical? Who was right about Chris, his father or his mother? What was the purpose of his nightly ritual?

If you like this, try: “Warrior” from the same director

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