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Action by the numbers - 'The Accountant'

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Affleck thriller uneven, but entertaining nevertheless

Ben Affleck is nestled firmly in the Hollywood sweet spot right now. He's got his massive superhero franchise connection. He gets to act in and/or direct awards-bait prestige projects while tossing in the occasional standard-issue popcorn flick if he feels like it.

'The Accountant' is just such a popcorn flick, a relatively straightforward action thriller with a fairly absurd premise that allows Affleck to utilize his Batman physique in a non-Caped Crusader environment. It's the sort of smart-dumb (or dumb-smart) movie that will frustrate some and delight others.

Personally? I enjoyed it considerably more than I expected.

Affleck is Christian Wolff, a forensic accountant who specializes in tracking down lost money. Specifically, he's who the bad guys hire when other bad guys may or may not have stolen from them. He's also been dealing with Asperger's syndrome his whole life; he's a genius with math and pattern recognition, but he struggles with interpersonal interaction.

His youth was spent with a little brother who was his only friend and a distant, demanding father, a military man who believed that the world wasn't going to change for his son's differences, so he was just going to have to learn to deal with the world as it was. This led to years of constant moving and a wide variety of training, resulting in a man uniquely qualified to serve as the underworld's master of dark money.

Meanwhile, a Treasury agent named Ray King (J.K. Simmons, 'The Late Bloomer') has been pursuing this mysterious accountant for years; he enlists Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, TV's 'Arrow'), an analyst with a troubled past, to help him on his quest. There's also another mercenary/assassin guy named Brax (Jon Bernthal, TV's 'Daredevil') in the picture.

It all starts coming to a head when Christian is enlisted by a legitimate technology firm led by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow, 'Interstellar') to determine the origin of an irregularity noticed by a junior accountant named Dana (Anna Kendrick, 'Get a Job'). Things take a sinister turn, forcing Christian to utilize every one of his extremely specific skills to finish the job in front of him and hopefully still manage to do the right thing.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. Screenwriter Bill Dubuque's script is convoluted and uneven, filled with too many potential storylines; these subplots threaten to overwhelm the primary narrative. There are a smattering of telegraphed twists and a third act that skates right up to (and, one could argue, beyond) the edge of ludicrousness. Yes, director Gavin O'Connor is definitely a talent, but this is his first go at a film like this one. He succeeds more than he fails, although there are still some bumps in the road; for instance, the lack of consistency regarding flashbacks causes a bit of timeline confusion. And the portrayal of Asperger's is problematic at best and offensive at worst.

And yet, 'The Accountant' is more than the sum of its parts a relative rarity these days. Despite the strained premise and the narrative inconsistency, there's something oddly enjoyable about the film. It's a dynamite cast; even when they're clearly counting zeroes, they're a talented enough bunch to make it work. The action sequences are engaging, albeit a touch generic. And there are actually some laughs, both at (no surprise) and with (BIG surprise) the film.

Affleck's performance reads a bit surface-level, but it works well within the confines of the story being told. There's something oddly fitting about him doing a project like this one, one with echoes of his BFF's Jason Bourne franchise. Is Christian Wolff just affectless Affleck? Absolutely but it works. Anna Kendrick is her usual charming self, bringing a welcome warmth and wit to her scenes with Affleck; she's a significant contributor to his success here. Simmons as a crusty government agent is some wheelhouse stuff; he could do this in his sleep. Bernthal's charms are effective here; he's so charismatic that he doesn't really have to try. Lithgow's an old pro and acts like one ditto other supporting folks like Jeffrey Tambor and Jean Smart.

'The Accountant' has a lot of flaws particularly when considering the film in retrospect but in the moment, it is a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The smart-dumb dichotomy is certainly strong. Ultimately, it probably shouldn't work as well as it does and perhaps it doesn't work as well as I think it does but fans of Affleck and action will likely have a good time.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:32


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