By Jayna Patel
Director: Gavin O‘Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow.
Studio: Warner Bros, Electric City Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment and Zero Gravity Management
Ben Affleck’s no stranger to challenging roles. From having to live up to Christian Bale’s stellar performance as the Dark Knight, to playing the most screwed-over and hoodwinked husband of all time in David Fincher’s mind-blowing thriller, Gone Girl. His winning performance as an autistic accountant who uses his astute math skills for the most formidable terrorists and offenders of the criminal underworld, is yet another testament to his understated versatility as an actor.
And yes, you read correctly, a protagonist who is an autistic accountant. Refreshing huh? In fact, the whole film is refreshing.
Immediately suspense is built up, bit by bit, frame by frame, as the film opens with a tense shootout, depicted through an initially unknown character’s point of view. We witness close ups of his cautious feet as he edges slowly, floorboards creaking, up the stairs of the building from which the piercing sound of gunfire rings out, ricocheting off the walls, the sound of his nervous footsteps carrying him closer to the deadly scene as he catches sight of the limp and bloody arm of a fatally shot figure slumped on the ground around the corner…
Well you get the picture, The Accountant features gripping action and gunfire sequences but quite ingeniously intersperses a tight, slick filming style evocative of the methodical and meticulous mind of someone living with autism.
What’s great about how The Accountant tells a story is the way it’s put together, the narrative interwoven with strategically placed flashbacks that reveal more about Affleck’s complex character, Christian Wolff. Without being overloaded with flashbacks, it paid to have different elements of Christian’s background spliced together with the present of thread of him auditing the books of a legitimate client, cutting edge robotics corporation, Living Robotics to see how past events have shaped the man he has become.
His army father’s relentless ‘beat it out him’ mentality and approach when it comes to comforting Christian’s autism, forcing Christian and his younger brother, Braxton (Jon Bernthal) to endure intensive combat and sniper training as children, explains the elite fighting skills Christian displays and channels his aggression into in present day.
Later flashbacks of the seemingly aloof accountant receiving valuable advice from an elderly mentor and fellow inmate at a prison, Francis, (Jeffery Tambor), who imparts pearls of wisdom from his own former days of being a financial fixer for a crime family. Tips like regularly changing addresses if one is to consider balancing drug and warlord’s books- serves as an explanation of Christian owning a storage unit on wheels, so he can not only stow his extensive gun, cash and gold bullion collection, but also make a quick getaway if necessary.
Though farfetched at times, director, Gavin O’Connor and Affleck work well together to portray the daily reality of living with autism. Christian’s little ticks and obsessive quirks and muttering, his one sole set of cutlery, the fact that his food can’t touch, painting an insightful picture.
Humour stems from Christian’s literal interpretations of questions and sayings, a trait that is played out well in his interactions with Dana (Anna Kendrick) , an assistant at Living Robotics who spots a discrepancy in their figures and ends up entangled in Christian’s extra-curricular activities. “What is this place?” a bewildered Dana demands to know only to be greeted with the exact size and dimensions of his mobile storage unit. But instead of being mocking of autism, the humour is artfully acted and well crafted to make Christian seem a tad endearing.
Endearing is a surprising impression to create, given Christian’s slightly skewed, if a little unbelievable moral compass. He’s fine with going on a killing spree (even if to avenge Francis who was tortured to death upon his prison release) and gunning down criminals nonchalantly, it’s comical at times. Yet he rescues Dana from a couple of would-be assassins, cuts corners to save an elderly couple money, and spares the life of Raymond King, Director of FinCEN at the Treasury, because he claims to be a good father.
As slightly implausible as his moral code may be, it works as a metaphor for being misunderstood, just as his condition is in real life. His kick-ass combat skills and brilliant mathematical cognitive capacity certainly makes the statement “maybe he’s capable of much more than we know” from a childhood doctor, ring true.
His extraordinary abilities do the rare thing of shining a light on mental disability, conditions we’re still not completely comfortable with openly discussing, in contrast with physical disabilities which shed their taboo skin years ago with the popularity of the Paralympics. There’s no doubt the film is a powerful enough to encourage us to reflect on whether we put value on the wrong characteristics; social skills over intellectual talents.
The shakeup of the stereotypically dull accountancy profession into one of excitement and action adds to the refreshing allure the film emits, whilst plot twists, although predictable after a while, are clever narrative U-turns nonetheless.
The Accountant is an all-round champion, if not a thought-provoking eye opener that leaves unanswered questions about autism lingering long after the credits cease to roll.