Watching actors play against type is always an interesting exercise, and Ben Affleck is given an opportunity to do exactly that in The Accountant. The latest offering from director Gavin O’Connor finds the Oscar winner shedding his charming smile and often rugged appearance for impeccably tailored suits, spectacles, and a high-functioning form of autism that has rendered him a bona fide mathematical genius.
Working out of a tiny office in a strip mall that also contains a laundromat and a Chinese eatery, Christian Wolff (Affleck) doesn’t have the sort of lifestyle that one would expect from an accountant who the US Treasury suspects of uncooking the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. He flies under the radar, using numerous aliases and always being careful not to be photographed, but after decades of work Director Ray King (J.K. Simmons) is finally closing in on Wolff’s identity – thanks mostly to the legwork of a young trainee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).
Meanwhile, the CEO (John Lithgow) of global bio-medical tech conglomerate Living Robotics has just hired Wolff to dig through 15 years of financial records after low-level financial analyst Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) stumbles upon a discrepancy. She takes an immediate interest in the handsome accountant, but Wolff is much more comfortable poring over mountains of ledgers than making small talk about pocket protectors and their shared profession. He works through the night, scribbling calculations on the windows of the conference room he’s been assigned to, and by the time Dana returns the next morning it looks more like Wolff may have cracked the code for time travel than unraveled a tangled knot of monetary malfeasance.
Throughout these proceedings, we’re also treated to frequent flashbacks that help us piece together precisely how Wolff developed into the sort of person who keeps an Airstream trailer stocked with cash, assault weapons and original Jackson Pollack paintings in a storage unit on the outskirts of town, or how he managed to cultivate the elite hand-to-hand combat skills he uses to dispatch the army of goons set upon him by a ruthless assassin named Brax (Jon Bernthal). Just like the jigsaw puzzle that a pre-teen Wolff completes during a visit to a facility for children with special needs, the big picture slowly comes into focus with each new revelation.
Affleck’s incredibly engaging portrayal of Wolff is also a credit to O’Connor’s handling of the subject matter, and the choice to never treat the character as though his affliction is a handicap. Too many films have portrayed autism and other mental illness as an unfortunate curse, but The Accountant takes a more nuanced and even-handed approach, even finding humor in some of Wolff’s exchanges with other characters while never giving the impression that the jokes are coming at the protagonist’s expense.
Working from Bill Dubuque’s pulpy-as-hell script (which landed on the 2011 “Black List” of best unproduced screenplays), O’Connor deftly juggles the film’s numerous narrative threads while striking a balance between action and solemnity that will feel instantly familiar to fans of his well-received MMA drama Warrior. Admittedly, The Accountant occasionally drifts into territory that borders on farcical, but always manages to rein itself in at just the right moment before straining the limits of credulity to their breaking point. The result is a dramatic thriller that’s been tossed into a blender with a gleefully silly action flick and has come out far more compelling than either of those ideas would have been on their own, and also comes as a welcome reminder that even though the box office tends to be overrun with huge studio tentpoles and blockbuster franchises, Hollywood hasn’t quite run out of great ideas just yet.