Ben Affleck's been busy since his last directorial outing in Argo. While Live by Night is out soon and his own Batman project is in pre-production, he's knocked out a turn as high-functioning maths savant with a secret in The Accountant.
Autism provides an interesting tool for a movie's main character. Not only can you provide them with a specialty (here it's mathematics) but also a skill-set with which they see the world. It's an intriguing proposition, especially when the condition provides super-human gifts. Not only does Affelck's Christian Wolff have the ability to dismantle years of financial records, but also steely executed combat techniques. It's a far cry from Dustin Hoffman's method interpretation in Rain Man and while it does take a few leaps in logic, it's not wholly unsatisfying.
Although the set up is simple enough, it's shrouded by conjoined story lines and running flashbacks, which explain how a man who wears a pocket protector and would rather not have the food on his plate touch could give Bourne a run for his money. Once JK Simmons Treasury Investigator is involved and Wolff takes a job at a robotics company to throw the feds off the ill-gotten-gains he's wracking up, it starts to get interesting. However, Gavin O'Connor's pace is at times so deliberate that the momentum built by it's carefully crafted suspense is muted. The real draw in The Accountant's narrative is how it unfolds. Not only do we learn clues from the Feds investigation, but as we examine Wolff the layers of how he has come to be are peeled. That being said, the slow pace does lend a shock-value to any action. Rather than slickly shot set-pieces, violence is explosive and brutal. Regardless of how economically and sure-fire the execution is, it does come as a shock. Even towards the films climax, against multiple enemies, there's still a feeling of practicality and well thought out improvisation.
While The Accountant is successful on the whole, it does struggle in it's effectiveness. Affleck plays the high-functioning autism well. The misunderstanding of emotional cues and inability to make eye contact are ever-present, but then it's mentioned too often. Although movies need to placate the least attentive audience member, this underlining feels heavy handed to those paying attention. It would be better to just trust the audience the film was made for rather than hedge narrative bets. Similarly, while the flashbacks serve to help us understand Wolff and his capability, showing him and his brother training in Kung-Fu, under their father's supervision, feel like they belong to another film.
The Accountant is still stronger than a lot of the fare that Hollywood wheel out under the guise of thriller. The additions to the formula are effective in raising the film from the stock plot and offer enough to keep it compelling, but it doesn't always have the strength of it's convictions. While it's explained that he's high-functioning and indeed wants to connect with others, the obstacles his condition causes can be overcome if we need to move on quickly. Then the final bookend undermines the more serious tone of the film and feels like a last-minute bid to pleasantly wrap up Wolff's ongoing struggle. Whether it's a studio's notes or lack of strength, you can't help but feel both the audience and Wolff deserve a little bit more.
3* - Batman Vs Uberman