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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, October 21, 2016

‘The Accountant’ doesn’t add up


The Critic's Corner movie review



If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded an Oscar for the most absurd ending to a movie, “The Accountant” would be a shoo-in for 2016. I didn’t see it coming, but that’s not the point. If I had put together the clues, I would have rejected the idea as ludicrous. The people who made the film thought otherwise, and I don’t know whether to commend them for their bravery or shake my head in wonder at how their denouement made it past the early stages of development. When writer Bill Dubuque turned in the first draft of his script, did anyone say, “I don’t know about this...”

Now I’ve made you curious, and you’re going to see the movie. That wouldn’t be a complete waste of time, despite the ending, but you need to know a few things going in.

First, the story is too complex for its own good. In “The Accountant,” Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a math genius who works as a forensic accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. Pursuing Wolff is Raymond King, director of financial crimes at the Treasury Department. (King has several photographs of Wolff with clients but doesn’t know who Wolff is or where to find him.) To help Wolff avoid King, Wolff’s assistant sends him on a legitimate assignment to audit a robotics company. While there, Wolff works with Dana Cummings, the in-house accountant who found a discrepancy in the books and triggered the audit. What they discover makes them the targets of an assassin’s bullets.

The plot might sound simple, but “The Accountant” is anything but straightforward. Each layer of the story is peeled back to reveal more layers, and each layer has enough characters to populate another film. The central mystery is pretty clear-cut, but it’s buried under a lot of unnecessary rigmarole. A good example comes late in the movie, when King dives into a long, belabored flashback that kills the pacing.

Another issue I had with “The Accountant” was the need of the filmmakers to explain everything. Not only does King get a backstory, but director Gavin O’Connor and Dubuque delve into Wolff’s childhood and explore how he came to work for criminals, creating two more sets of flashbacks. Worse, as O’Connor and Dubuque tease the end credits, they tie up every possible loose end with several extended scenes. There’s nothing wrong with thorough storytelling, but a little streamlining and some ambiguity would have gone a long way toward making “The Accountant” a better film.

I did say seeing “The Accountant” wouldn’t be a complete waste of time, though, so there are some plusses alongside the minuses.

The best reason to see “The Accountant” is Affleck. Wolff is a brilliant, high-functioning autistic who can look at several pages of numbers and see the solution as easily as most people can solve a simple addition problem. However, his autism is marked by repetitive behaviors and adherence to routine, and makes social interaction difficult for him. Wolff is also obsessed with completing any task he begins, which becomes an issue when the robotics company pulls the plug on his audit just as he’s getting to the bottom of things. When challenged this way, Wolff hurts himself.

Affleck did good work as Wolff. Although Wolff is emotionally disconnected from others, he understands what people want out of their interactions with him, and he tries to approximate the appropriate responses. When he fails, you can see the disappointment in Affleck’s eyes.

Affleck also manages to make Wolff a sympathetic character, mostly through his effort to connect with Cummings, and gives the accountant a touch of humor. A simple gesture at the end of a shootout on an older couple’s farm earns Affleck a huge laugh and goes a long way toward building good will for the character.

O’Connor and Dubuque do make a few good decisions. For example, the relationship between Wolff and Cummings doesn’t turn romantic, even though they do begin to feel affection for one another. It would have felt forced. And there are a couple of nicely choreographed action scenes, including a knock-out sequence of Wolff saving Cummings’ from being murdered in her apartment.

I sometimes edit a film in my mind as I’m watching it. I did that with “The Accountant.” There’s a good movie – even a fun one – buried under the excess baggage. If you can see that movie and enjoy it, then you might get your money’s worth. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ending.   v