Unraveling the Mystery of the Accountant

An alternate version of this review, originally published for CLTure, was posted on their site on October 14th, 2016.

There is nothing better than watching an actor – any actor – melt into a roll so completely that you forget what you’re watching is mere shadow puppetry. But to see an entire cast do this is not only uncanny, but fodder for the senses. Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior/Jane Got a Gun) and written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge), The Accountant is an utterly surprising film that defies genre characterizations featuring a cast of academy award winners, past nominees, legends, and up-and-comers. The advertising suggests that The Accountant is a thriller when it’s more of a mystery; the story slowly unfolding piecemeal all the way to its satisfying end.

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Ben Affleck (Argo/The Town) stars as Christian Wolff, a brilliant mathematician whose skill with numbers, along with his absolute discretion, have made him desirable to every criminal across the globe for his uncanny ability to make their finances look legitimate. When the Treasury Department begins to uncover his identity, Wolff takes on a legitimate client to create cover, only to unknowingly get drawn into an even more lethal quagmire.

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Wolff possesses an affinity for puzzles and that’s the approximate best way to view the film. A puzzle whose pieces are scattered throughout the story, only to see the full image emerge at the end. By their nature, puzzles are composed of many pieces, making them appear complex and mysterious. In order for anyone to put it all together, each piece must work in harmony. In The Accountant the outer pieces making up the frame are represented by the cast and the inner pieces are represented by the narrative – the two key components that hold the mystery of Christian Wolff together.

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The narrative is told in an interwoven past/present story that’s always moving forward. Some might find this distracting to the natural movement of storytelling, yet the moments are brief, interspersed delicately, and always reveal a new piece of information whether we realize it or not. In an interesting choice, the story is given perspective by interjecting information from two opposing forces that are seeking Wolff: the Treasury Department and an assassin. Following Wolff would make The Accountant feel like just another Jason Bourne film as the unsuspecting protagonist finds himself fighting to survive against unknown forces. By showing various perspectives, the story becomes infinitely richer and complex.  None of this would matter without a cast as impressive as those within The Accountant.

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Puzzles are rarely built one piece at a time, but in sections that are then cooked together. The same is with The Accountant. Affleck, with Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect/Mr. Right) in tow, are the focal point; J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow) from the Treasury Department make up another; while the last piece goes to Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead/Daredevil), an assassin on the outskirts. Affleck plays Wolff as strong, yet warm; serious, yet empathic; straight-forward; yet mysterious; and loyal to a fault. Affleck plays all of this in one of the most internal, simplistic performances to date. Affleck’s muted performance is perfectly counter-balanced by Anna Kendrick’s hyper-kinetic energy. Her character, Dana Cummings, is also socially awkward and Kendrick delivers her lines with passion – making her seem like an opposing force to Wolff, when it’s actually a Yin/Yang. They create balance within each other, making their scenes together charming and sweet. The next grouping is Simmons and Addai-Robinson as the Treasury Department agents. Simmons is perfect to relay the enormous presence of a character in charge who’s filled with integrity and a relentless need for the truth. Though the bulk of the work from this puzzle piece is achieved through Addai-Robinson’s Agent Medina, an analyst with skills and checkered past, you can feel Simmons’ Ray King every time Medina is on screen. That’s how good Simmons is at conveying urgency on-screen or just as motivation. Addai-Robinson, in contrast, is capable, yet initially meek. As she gets pushed further into uncovering the truth about Wolff, Addai-Robinson’s slowly presents a visibly shift in body language and vocal tone to convey her growing authority. Taking up the final puzzle piece is Jon Bernthal’s assassin – the gun-for-hire who works for an unnamed organization with the instructions to clean up any mess. Bernthal is charismatic, calculating, lethal, and is lucky enough to have some of the best lines in the entire film. Someone this deadly must be the villain to create counter-balance to Wolff, but in a story with this many puzzle pieces, how can you tell who is who?

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As antithetical as this is, the best thing any viewer can do is go into The Accountant with as little knowledge as possible. Intentionally, no secrets were spilled within this review to preserve as much mystery as possible. In fact, that’s how audiences should be pushed to view The Accountant – not as a thriller, but a mystery. It’s packed with action (complex, yet simple scenes), humor (need light to balance the dark), purity of heart (unexpected in a film that focuses on a man capable of utter brutality), and the kind of twists that make each revelation feel like the start of a new chapter. The kind of chapter that changes the way audiences view a character or a story. The Accountant is undeniably refreshing, exciting, and a damn fine time at the cinema.

Final Score: 4.5 of 5.

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