The Accountant is a film whose ambitious intricacy is also its undoing. A movie with so many characters and narrative strands that dangle, loosely interconnected, with the vague hint of revelation teased over such a protracted term, is almost too tedious to register as sharp and exciting entertainment.
In a film that focuses largely on a character for whom life is a series of puzzles to solve, the narrative itself is mounted as a puzzle for the audience to navigate. Problem is, as perspective shifts from one piece to the next, the overall picture becomes fuzzy. So convolutedly intertwined are various identities, alliances, and implications that, regardless of how painstakingly the filmmakers work to put these pieces together, it never feels like a natural, seamless fit.
The broad essence of The Accountant is Will Hunting-meets-Jason Bourne, only if Hunting was clinical and Bourne wasn’t actually a spy and Ben Affleck was the star. That’s what we get with Affleck playing Christian Wolff – though that’s not his real name – who is an accountant, although not in a traditional sense. Quirky fronts with layers of “oh but not really” disclosures are abundant in this screenplay, which is torn between conducting itself as a calculating mystery and an oddball relationship dramedy. Wolff is a mathematical genius with a form of high-functioning autism who is also trained in all forms of combat, a scenario the film takes seriously within the context of specific plot points, but also plays for Rain Man-style chuckles. In the realm of sensitive subjects, it’s far from offensive, but it also doesn’t quite work, with the frequent tonal shifts from melodrama to casual humor never quite hitting a stride.
Affleck is good in the role, which has certain built-in emotional limitations that demand he rein in some of his broader tendencies. The film is at its best when it focuses, quietly and closely, on the specificity of his character. He is basically a guy who lives in exacting detail to avoid exploding. The Accountant is not content with that stoic character study, however, instead concocting a grand scheme involving a technology magnate (Jon Lithgow) whose books need “uncooking” thanks to a whistleblower (Anna Kendrick) who becomes Wolff’s quasi-love interest while a veteran Treasury Department agent (J.K. Simmons) enlists a young analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to investigate Wolff’s ties to international espionage and a mysterious hitman (Jon Bernthal) is hot on the trail of…one or more of the aforementioned characters. Whew! This paragraph needs a breather.
Spoiler Alert: the movie doesn’t really assist with viewer confusion. That is, until it’s ready to do a revelation dump late in the game, making each disparate plot point unmistakably clear in extended, isolated narrative chunks that zoom in on individual character perspectives while ignoring everything else swirling around in the story. Over those periodic stretches, the character detail is compelling but the broader story gets lost, incoherence by way of over-contextualization.
Gavin O’Connor, a filmmaker whose skill is greatly undervalued, directs The Accountant with the same futile verve he applied to the mangled, re-worked Jane Got a Gun earlier this year. For O’Connor, passion is a prerequisite for his A-game, and these for-hire projects give him little room to flex. As ever, he doesn’t shy away from narrative complexity and tenuous tonal dynamics, but The Accountant gets lost in its own elaborate puzzle and takes its director with it.