James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Coming from a writer who stays away from trailers at all cost, the trailer for Ben Affleck’s latest starring role, THE ACCOUNTANT, had me completely floored. Whoever edited this together created a mood– a focused 2-minute film that profiled a mysterious man named Christian Wolff (Affleck) who has autism. In the trailer, we see Affleck tapping his fingers rhythmically; he’s shown adjusting his breakfast food to perfect symmetry to Radiohead’s “Everything In Its’ Right Place.” Mixed in is a description of a man who has been afflicted with what society deems as a disability, but through the trailer we’re told he has a savant level skills with numbers, guns and logic, and he does it all with detached emotion.
This is one of the best character teases I’ve seen in a number of years. The trailer is brilliant, yet Gavin O’Connor’s directed film is unfocused and confusing at times with odd tonal changes that throw off the film’s icy exterior. It’s a classic case of marketing misdirecting the final product.
The first half of the film focuses on Wolff. His backstory is told through a series of daydreams as he sits in a hidden trailer where he stores cash, gold bullion and a Jackson Pollack painting. The beautiful thing about THE ACCOUNTANT— that’s abandoned mid-way through — is the idea that people on the autism spectrum have a special power that has been left untapped by the constraints of “normal” society. It actually caused me to be emotional in certain scenes where he’s obsessing over finishing a task, even something simple as a puzzle.
Through his hard nosed military father Wolff finds the inner strength to use his “hangups” as an advantage in life. We’re kept at a distance from Wolff: he’s an enigma that we can’t really ever figure out fully and when personal elements come to life they hit with an emotional pay-off. I know this sounds great so far, but this premise is abandoned for a cliched thriller that forgets its plotting, ditches the psychology of our hero and focuses on a manhunt led by a retiring treasury agent — an underused J.K. Simmons — that’s akin to THE BOURNE IDENTITY. This makes me think maybe Affleck is attempting to recreate the same magic Matt Damon found in the aforementioned franchise. But in the Bourne films, the heavy-plotting congealed seamlessly with the fast-paced action to create a trilogy of high-minded Hollywood intrigue.
THE ACCOUNTANT never lets us settle into the money laundering scheme Wolff and his junior accounting associate Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) are caught in. The mystery is thrown out the window for a “guy keeps the girl safe” plotline that belongs in a 1995 Jean Claude Van Damme movie. While Affleck is dynamite yet again with an icy and loving persona that is longing to connect with the world, Kendrick’s performance is out of place and undercuts the tension with awkward jokes that interfere with this beautiful jigsaw puzzle that’s set up in the film’s first half.
For the jumbled plotting O’Connor crafts three phenomenal action set pieces that highlight Wolff’s marksman skills as well as Affleck’s formidable physical presence (This alone is worth the price of admission). And O’Connor employs some of the great familial elements he brought into 2011’s astounding MMA fighting film WARRIOR.
For what it’s worth, THE ACCOUNTANT has the formula to gross a positive return on the pieces put in place, yet becomes a serviceable thriller that will fade into the background come December.
THE ACCOUNTANT opens nationwide on Friday.