THE ACCOUNTANT is a flabby, overlong film with an earnest mission to make us all think differently about autism, and also to give us the cheap thrill of seeing justice meted out to those slimy financiers who manipulate high finance to the detriment of the little guys at the bottom of that particular food chain. The delivery system is forensic accounting, hence the title, and one day there will might be a gripping thriller made on that subject, but this is not it. Alas.
Ben Affleck stars in the eponymous role as an accounting whiz with Asperger’s Syndrome. From finding a way to help farmer’s legitimately lighten their tax burden, to ferreting out the missing assets in the cash flows for drug cartels and other nefarious syndicates, he is the sine qua non with his compulsion to solve puzzles and to finish what he started. Hot on his trail is Ray King (J.K. Simmons), a Treasury Department director not above using morally questionable tactics to force a department analyst, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), to find The Accountant in one month or face dire consequences.
Along the way, this loping narrative indulges in flashbacks, red herrings, and oddly anti-climactic plot twists to tell its story, all leading up to a climax that is the stuff of black comedy or sloppy writing. Alas, this not a black comedy, but one can’t help but ponder if it might not have worked much better as one. Certainly Affleck, with his unemotional affect, mystification about the subtleties of small talk, and complete lack of irony makes for an interesting character with his unique moral compass that includes shooting people in the head, and the need for meals that come in three. When he saves the damsel in distress of the piece, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), his sotto voice “We should leave” in the midst of carnage and mayhem is the stuff of pop-culture catchphrase mania.
The story drifts between the not uninteresting Simmons and Brax, a chatty hitman (Jon Bernthal) who puts financiers in their place, Affleck’s interaction with Kendrick, courtesy of his latest assignment, via a robotic voice on a cell phone, and a thriving robotics company run by a selfless inventor (John Lithgow) and his hard-as-nails sister (Jean Smart) where Affleck is investigating missing millions. Robot metaphor intended as sly, but somehow isn’t. Where Affleck is stilted, Kendrick is goofily outgoing as thein-house accountant, but both share a passion for accounting that gives credence to the awkward fellowship they form.
If the story takes its sweet time getting to the point, the direction is equally lackadaisical. Pages of balance sheet form a yawner of a montage, Addai-Robinson spends a great deal of screen time isolating a voice track on audio software, and takes much too long to figure out the mathematician connection with the aliases our accountant enjoys using. The moments of genuine entertainment are all too fleeting, and are the result of talented actors finding more to the story, say, of a prom dress than is actually there.
Double-entry accounting may have changed the world as we know it, but it can’t save THE ACCOUNTANT.