Tuesday 18 October 2016

Movie Review: The Accountant (2016)

An action thriller with a rich story and plenty of style, The Accountant is an intelligent and inventive addition to the genre.

Department of Treasury Agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) recruits analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to dig into a mysterious accountant who appears to have ties with some of the world's worst criminals. Now going under the name Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck), the accountant is a mathematical savant with a high functioning form of autism. He leads a double life as a nondescript local store-front accountant while surreptitiously traveling the world and working for shady clients with major financial secrets to hide.

As Medina digs into the accountant's mysterious identity and background, Wolff's next assignment is a legitimate forensic audit of a large Chicago-based robotics company headed by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), where junior accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has accidentally stumbled upon financial irregularities. Wolff uncovers a dangerous and well-hidden secret that triggers a round of brutal violence leaving him and Dana in mortal danger from a well-armed hit squad, while Medina unearths more twists in Wolff's past.

Directed by Gavin O'Connor and written by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant surprises with a crisp introduction of a new screen action hero. With tired sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations flailing and failing to gain traction, credit to the The Accountant for venturing into original territory. The concept of an autistic mathematical genius as a conflicted protagonist, capable of untangling dense annual financial statements and disposing of ruthless killers with equal effectiveness, is a breath of fresh air. Far from a clean-cut hero, the accountant holds morally ambiguous ground, helping dubious clients while toiling towards difficult to discern ulterior motives.

The film's pacing and construction is also commendable. O'Connor displays remarkable patience, allowing the rich story to unfurl its various sails in an intriguing first hour. There are several flashbacks, some to Wolff's childhood, others to a bloody massacre at a mafia hideout, and still others to a prison stint. The exploits of Agent King and analyst Medina run in parallel with Wolff's latest investigation into the robotics company, and only deep into the film do all the pieces start to fit together, and even then there are more clever surprises to come. When the puzzle picture starts to take shape, it's a satisfyingly elegant mosaic, and a sturdy foundation on which to build a franchise.

The Accountant is weakest when it mimics routine action flicks, and does suffer from one over-the-top combat scene, a prolonged one-against-many home invasion that could have been extracted from any Jason Bourne movie. But most of the 128 minutes of running time are preoccupied with more intelligent fare, and the accountant's uncovering of financial deviousness is more thrilling than any conventional gun play. Even more captivating is his agony when his forensic work is interrupted: this is man who absolutely needs to see every task through to full completion, and can mentally fall off a dark edge in the pragmatic world of enough is enough.

Chris Wolff is an almost perfect role for Ben Affleck. Inexpressive, introspective, alone and with a lumbering gait, the actor does not need to stretch much. The supporting cast is good but predictable, Kendrick at 31 years old still able to pull off the ingenue trick, J.K. Simmons extracting maximum gruffness out of Agent King while Addai-Robinson gets a role with depth and potential as the analyst with a dark past of her own. Jon Bernthal makes for a handsome but lethal leader of an intimidation and murder squad.

Both smart and stirring, The Accountant's pen and sword are equally mighty.

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