Director Gavin O’Connor’s thriller “The Accountant” almost seems like an excuse for Ben Affleck to try his hand at playing a math whiz for once. But Affleck’s Christian Wolff is a far cry from Will Hunting. Chris is a high functioning math savant on the autism spectrum, who finds solace in ritual, routine, patterns and finishing his tasks. He leads an unassuming and mundane life in rural Illinois as a strip mall accountant, but of course what looks simple and quiet never is.
His unique gifts allow him a lucrative side-hustle as a forensic accountant for “some of the scariest people on the planet,” according to Ray King (J.K. Simmons), director of crime enforcement at the Department of the Treasury. But that part of his life isn’t so much what “The Accountant” is about. There’s no globe-trotting or cavorting with cartels and mob bosses. The film is a bit of a bait and switch. We think we’re diving into the antithetical world of the criminal accountant, but what the film wants to explore is where Chris came from, and how he works.
He’s from a family ruled by an authoritarian hand by his military psychologist father, who whipped his neuro-divergent son into a super fighter for self-defense purposes. When he works, whiteboards can’t contain his extensive, meticulous, nearly “supernatural” methods. He accepts payment in the form of priceless pieces of fine art. He spends a portion of his nights listening to cacophonous music and battering his leg with what appears to be a rolling pin. He relaxes by shooting cantaloupes with long range anti-aircraft weapons.
While King and an upstart Treasury analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are hot to uncover Chris’ identity (it involves googling Lewis Carroll a lot), he takes a gig hunting for a financial leak at biomedical company Living Robotics. It’s the gig that undoes him, as he connects with young accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick), and runs into foes he never saw coming.
“The Accountant” isn’t quite a twisty tale, but it revels in slow-burning reveals that range from the blatantly obvious – clearly intended to make the audience feel smart – to the entirely inexplicable and confounding. There’s also a double whammy of button-cute ending twists.
The film is far more potboiler thriller than prestige picture, but Affleck is fun to watch in this against-type performance. In flashbacks, we see Chris struggle with his neurological condition as a young boy, and Affleck takes those tics and tantrums and turns them into grown up quirks and tendencies. There’s often a dry humor to his deadpan and awkward interactions, and the laughs are a welcome tonic in the otherwise cold and violent film.
The cast is a great strength of “The Accountant” — in addition to Simmons, the beloved character actor set is rounded out with Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Chris’ mentor, and John Lithgow playing the Living Robotics founder, as well as Jean Smart as his sister and business partner. Kendrick’s own tendency toward the neurotic is well-channeled into her character.
There are many story threads left dangling, as if they were planning a sequel to this hero origin story, wherein the accountant finds deductions and loopholes and leaks for the world’s super-villains. The result is that it feels not quite done, a good idea that’s only half-baked.
Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout. Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal. Director: Gavin O’Connor. Running time: 128 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.