There is something refreshingly original about The Accountant. This is not to say that the Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) directed action thriller represents some kind of major paradigm shift for the genre, but in a sea of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, adaptations and franchises The Accountant stands out both for its fresh take on familiar action tropes and for that fact that it is not derived from a pre-existing property. The film stars Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, an autistic CPA with a modest firm located in the small town of Plainfield, Illinois. We soon learn that Wolff has a lucrative side career as a financial consultant for a variety of criminal organisations.
Early in the film high-ranking US Treasury official Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) explains to young analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) that Wolff is who Mexican drug cartels, international arms dealers and Mafia crime families call in when they discover internal financial irregularities and embezzlement. Known in law enforcement circles as ‘The Accountant’, Wolff is a mysterious figure who has long evaded apprehension. King tasks Medina with discovering his identity, threatening to expose the juvenile criminal record she fraudulently concealed on her application form if she doesn’t complete the task within one month. Wolff’s handler, an anonymous British woman who appears to deal with him exclusively over the phone, tips him off to the investigation and finds the CPA a legal, legitimate assignment auditing a large robotics company founded by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow).
This assignment brings Wolff into contact with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the friendly, slightly socially awkward in-house accountant who first noticed the financial discrepancies Wolff was brought in to investigate. After a few stilted interactions the two manage establish an endearing rapport based on a mutual appreciation for art and the pleasures of puzzle solving. We begin to see more of Christian’s solitary, strictly regimented home life during this period. In one particularly striking sequence the character is shown engaging in a nightly self-stimulatory (or stimming) ritual while using loud music and a bright flashing light to create an improvised controlled multisensory environment in his bedroom.
We also see more of Christian’s childhood, starting with his diagnosis with high-functioning autism in the late 1980s. Subsequent flashbacks reveal that Christian’s mother abandoned him and his younger brother not long after the diagnosis, leaving them with their militaristic father. Fearing that his son’s disorder will make him vulnerable to victimization in a world where people who are different are often regarded with fear or scorn, Christian’s father insists that both boys undergo intensive, bordering on brutal martial arts training. The skills Christian learns from his martial arts instructor come in handy when a hit is put out on him and Dana after they discover that someone has embezzled around sixty million dollars from Living Robotics.
Pursued by an assassin played by the always welcome Jon Bernthal, Dana and Christian go on the run and customarily this is the point in an action movie when romance blossoms between the male lead and his attractive female co-star. The Accountant subtly subverts this trope by having Christian and Dana share an intimate moment that is more about empathy and emotional honesty than sex or romance, and there’s a beautifully understated poignancy to Affleck’s performance in the scene where Christian explains that he finds it difficult to socialize with other people despite desperately wanting to.
Equally interesting are The Accountant’s action scenes, which feature fight choreography and stunt work reflecting ideas about how an autistic person might approach hand-to-hand combat. Christian takes down opponents with almost mathematical precision and the film mines a lot of humour from the character’s lack of affect while shooting people in the head. A drawn out final confrontation plus a glut of plot twists and character reveals in The Accountant’s third act leave the film feeling a little long at 128 minutes, but there’s more than enough fun here to make it worth seeing.