The Accountant is the kind of delectably terrible movie that doesn’t really get made on a grand scale anymore, so at least it’s novel. It’s not that there aren’t bad movies, of course – far from it. But most are bad in the same, depressing ways: free of personality and risk, focus-grouped out the wazoo, eyes perpetually on the franchise or universe they’re setting up or living in. The Accountant, if nothing else, is not that. It’s a movie so clear-eyed in its singular, stupid vision, I honestly can’t believe it made it all the way from the page to the screen, with a real director and major studio attached. It’s a strange kind of shrug-worthy miracle.
Ben Affleck — poor, poor Ben Affleck — stars as Christian Wolff, an accountant. (“Like… CPA accountant?” asks a character early on, with understandable incredulity.) He is very good at it, because he is autistic – Affleck making another movie with autism as a plot device after Gigli feels like deliberate trolling – and he is also a flawless marksman and can kill a man with his bare hands, because sure, why not. He makes most of his money working for very bad people, terrorists and cartels and so forth, which is why Treasury Director Ray King (J.K. Simmons) wants rising analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to figure out who he is. Wolff, meanwhile, takes a rare legit gig for a big robotics firm, where a low-level bookkeeper (Anna Kendrick) thinks someone embezzled a shitload of money.
Plot-wise, this sounds like the kind of sub-Grisham thriller that might’s opened twenty or so years ago, and turned up on weekend-afternoon TNT ever since. (It’s from the same writer as 2014’s The Judge, which fits the same description.) But even this silly plot can’t convey the sheer battiness of Bill Dubuque’s script, or the stern seriousness with which Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) directs it. At risk of over-stating the point, I must reiterate that in the world of studio filmmaking circa 2016, there are multiple levels of gatekeeping. Every project is micro-managed, every plot point is debated, every character arc is approved. And that’s what’s so mind-blowing about The Accountant: that at no point anywhere on the food chain, from director to studio to producers to actors to editors, did anyone ask a few basic questions about what they were making.
– “Hey, guys? When we’ve got Affleck under the prison tutelage of Jeffrey Tambor, and they’ve got all these scenes of quiet conversation in their prison jumpsuits at the tables there, do you think maybe that’s gonna remind people of Arrested Development in a way that’s not quite appropriate to our serious action thriller?”
– “Hey, um, you guys? When J.K. tells the analyst she’s got a month to figure out who this guy is or he’ll reveal the secret in her past? Why does he need to do that? Can’t he just give her the assignment because, like, he’s her boss?”
– “Okay, so, just one other quick thing: do we really not have any less Saturday Night Live-y names available for the criminal syndicate than “The Gambino Crime Family”? No, we’re doin’ that? Okay, cool cool cool.”
– “So hey, not to be a pest, but… are we totally sure about this big dramatic accounting montage, with him throwing around black and red magic markers like some sorta gunslinger? Isn’t there a chance that might be accidentally hilarious?”
– “Hey, hey, me again, just wondering if we’re a hundred percent on the children-getting-martial-arts-training sequence, because that sorta plays like we’re suddenly watching a really bad Karate Kid reboot?”
– “Okay, last thing, promise: do we maybe wanna think about, maybe even just in the editing, changing it to where we don’t stop the third act cold for a giant data dump of exposition and information that we could freely top-load or even spread out? No, we’re… no, great, just thought I’d ask.”
– “Look, sorry, I know I said the last thing was the last thing, but: that scene where Affleck is leaving Kendrick in the hotel room, and he closes the door, gazing at her longingly, for like a full minute and half, do we maybe trim that down a lit – no? No, we’re gonna… Yeah, no, we should definitely leave all that in, you’re right.”
– “Okay, real last thing here, sorry, promise: Um, we’ve got maybe the dumbest plot twist that’s ever been in a major motion picture, are we sure about – we are. Yeah, yeah, no, you’re right, no one’ll see it coming. Great! Gonna be a big hit!”
You get the idea. It’s a bafflingly incoherent and laughably cliché-ridden piece of claptrap, full of people puzzling over laptops (our savvy analyst Googles “Lewis Carroll”!) and replaying audio clips while our hero improvises his way through fistfights Jason Bourne-style and makes awkward chit-chat with Anna Kendrick, who does her very best with a nothing-burger of a role; a brief scene of their genuine conversation that makes you forget you’re watching a bad movie, but not for long.
There are talented people involved in The Accountant – O’Connor’s a decent director (though his decision to turn the ending of this movie into the ending of Warrior is… peculiar), Affleck does well in the right kinds of roles (though this isn’t one of them), cinematographer Seamus McGarvey make some pretty pictures, and O’Connor fills out the cast with capable character actors like Jean Smart and John Lithgow (whose expression after the big reveal beautifully mirrors that of the audience). I haven’t the foggiest idea what attracted them to this material, which is so flimsy, so poorly constructed, and so ill-advised, it’s almost worth seeing. Almost.
The Accountant is out Friday.