The Accountant as Hero
Here we offer a toast to the good, old-fashioned B-film. The day has been long and you want to relax and watch something that simply entertains, that takes your hand and teases you into a world where the women are all beautiful and the men know how to handle a bad guy. No interest in Citizen Kane or Vertigo—just a good shoot ‘em up and maybe with a clever twist or two.
Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant will serve well, a B-film with what producers term “high content,” an original take on a time-tested idea. Here the time-tested idea is the hero with the sketchy past who establishes order in a world threatened by chaos, and who does so by following an internal code of justice, not the usual set of rules. The police consider him a threat, but we know better. Set him loose against some twisted giant who defies typical law enforcement, mix in some vulnerable and alluring woman, a cast of interesting secondary characters, and a big showdown at the end—voila.
What specifically makes The Accountant a high concept story? We take the usual premise of the alienated superhero and bring in an atypical cause to his unusual abilities; not that he was birthed from a planet with a red sun or bitten by a radioactive spider, but how about if he is high-functioning autistic trained in martial fighting by a drill sergeant-type father and then in the dark arts of money laundering by a criminal mastermind. Rain Man meets The Punisher. What do you think?
Everything that works in the dark material of The Accountant derives from its source in the genre of the action film—the pace, the characterizations, the push for justice, the machismo. And that is not a bad thing. One might ascribe the same genre adherence to recognized classics like The Searchers or Singing in the Rain. But you must add in the twist. How about a Western but our hero John Wayne is so bitter and racist that he would rather kill a little girl abducted by Indians than take her back to his “civilized” home? How about a musical based on an early sound film gone really bad?
There is a reason why genres persist. In our modern world of shifting values, we crave justice, the triumph of Good over Evil. In our world of synthetic social roles, we want unique people who do unique things. The action-adventure film is an updated version of something ancient and still much needed poking up from under the soil of the culture; namely, the medieval romance, a knight on a quest brandishing a magic sword, riding a horse with a Christian name. The knight is our hero, the he we are not but wish we were, and whom we have conjured only through the stories rooted in the old faith.
The Accountant is Christian Wolff, a nice blended name for a moral man excellent at killing bad people. Ben Affleck plays him with just enough nuance to make the character not only believable but even compelling. He meets along the journey an equally clever and suitably mousy woman named Dana, nicely realized by Anna Kendrick, who helps him unravel the money-laundering scam in a high-end prosthetics firm while simultaneously offering him romantic sympathy. He reciprocates, of course, by saving her from the railroad tracks where the bad guys have tied her.
Around these two are those interesting secondary characters, from the simpering head of the scam operation, John Lithgow, to two treasury agents, J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson, both in need of their own redemption, who lead the hunt for our curious and dangerous hero. Such films often sink or swim on the backs of such secondary characters—the Perry Whites, Jimmy Olsens, and Lex Luthers. This one swims.
The plot of our tale is unremarkable and on some levels indecipherable, but still the film holds pace with very crisply edited action sequences. The battles and chases do not go on and on as is often the case in your run-of-the-mill Jason Bourne-styled films. And even with the common genre problem of our suspension of disbelief being stretched rather thin as our hero endures blows to the head that would flatten a horse, the deft and rhythmic editing keeps us following the bouncing ball of the story, our hero in pursuit of the really bad guy.
One other nice feature of the film is its graphic novel visuals. The cinematography of Seamus McGarvey places every key composition against an interesting context. In one scene Wolff writes columns of numbers across the glass walls of a conference room to find the leak in the financial laundry. The shots of Affleck surrounded by rows of numerical figures are memorable, suggesting the detailed genius of an extraordinary brain struggling to express itself within the confines of a stale modern society. One of the principle benefits in the rise in graphic sources to modern cinema is just this kind of slightly exaggerated Marvel Comic storytelling. It is evident even in the transitions, Affleck and Kendrick getting acquainted while eating homemade lunches outside the company tower—a scene well-designed to reveal character and conflict visually, from Affleck’s social ineptitude to Kendrick’s awkward vulnerability. Facial gesture, physical posture, camera position, ambient surroundings—the elements imply levels below the main story. You want to know more about these two and hope things work out.
So, The Accountant is a film well worth two hours and eight minutes beside the love of your life. It may even prove to have sleeper durability. Once you decide to accept it on its own terms and not overthink and judge by some false measures, you will likely find it a step down from The French Connection, but far above the majority in its own class.