The Accountant: The W-2 Form From Hell

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The Accountant Plot Summary:

A mathematical genius (Ben Affleck) with a social disorder moonlights as an account for notorious crime lords. When he’s hired by a growing technology company, the accountant gets in the cross hairs of the US Treasury Office, and dangerous killers.

The two most important elements to a movie are characters and story. This movie hits high on characters, but falters in the story department. If you’re going to pick one to excel in though, it should always be character. While trailers can often lie in their marketing, The Accountant gives you exactly what you expected. It presents a protagonist whose motivations are shady. He’s a brilliant mathematician, but clearly has some form of autism. This is a fascinating character to follow, much like Ryan Gosling’s turn in Drive. I’ve always been a defender of Ben Affleck, even in his down days. While his short career as a director has been hot out of the gate, Affleck’s acting has dramatically improved over the years.

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If you were to ask me ten years ago whether Affleck could sell me on such a subdued character, I would have said no way. I’m amazed at how controlled and introverted his performance is, yet you are glued to the screen whenever he’s on. Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a genius accountant who can basically look at numbers like a superpower. At times, his condition makes it difficult to carry on the most basic of conversations. This can often lead to a lot of sad and humorous moments. The humor is very tasteful when it comes to playing off his condition. Wolff’s dialogue is flawless. Efficient and meaningful. While his interactions with people are compelling, it’s the private moments where his regimented routine really grabs you. There’s also a lot of well-placed flashbacks with his father (Robert C. Treveiler) that flesh out the character. Treveiler does a good job, and is essentially a Kevin Costner clone. Seth Lee plays the younger Christian Wolff, and is also effective. This is a quintessential example of how you delve deep into a character.

Aside from the internal struggles, it’s Wolff’s actions that are just as entertaining. You don’t really have a pulse on who this guy is until late in the film. Is he some mob goon? An undercover agent? A simple man just taking jobs for money? A good person? What you quickly find out though is how much of a bad ass he is. This is like if you took Jason Bourne and Will Hunting, and melded them into one person. Yes, I realize the irony. That’s two Matt Damon characters combining to make one played by Ben Affleck. Everyone relax. I was surprised at how physical the role was. It’s almost as if Affleck drove by the set, realized he was still in Batman shape, and said “Might as well.” The action is crisp and harsh, and very well directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Miracle).

Wolff isn’t the only strong character. His relationship with Anna Kendrick fires on all cylinders. You immediately see why her character intrigues Wolff, which is hard to do. Kendrick brings a ton of charisma to the role. You leave the theater thirsting for more scenes between them.

The rest of the movie is flooded with great supporting roles. John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor do what they do best. Put them in that Morgan Freeman category. Jon Bernthal plays a fantastic villain, who they actually give a personality to. In a lot of movies of this ilk, he would have been a throw away character. He’s uncomfortably funny here. Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is tasked with bringing Wolff down, and the script wisely ramps up her motivations. This is something a lot of other trailers would spoil, but it was actually nice to find out her story as you watch the film. What a novel concept. She’s often playing against J.K. Simmons, director of the Treasury Department. How can you not love J.K. Simmons? Even though Simmons brings his usual “I’m an awesome actor” factor to the table, this is where the criticisms start to creep in.

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As good as the characters are, this story is a complete mess towards the end. There are so many twists and misdirects, it’s like the M. Night Shyamalan all-stars. It’s not that the surprises are completely off base, but they are all convenient. Really convenient. We’re talking about a 7-Eleven, Circle K, and Rite Aid all rolled into one super convenient store. One of them involves Simmons’ character. It’s the most long-winded, convoluted back story of all time, to the point where I completely lost the thread as to what the hell they were talking about. It’s a piece of exposition that could have been told in half the time. Some of the twists involving the characters were not only eye roll worthy, but badly predictable in the sense that they introduce characters solely to make them twists later on. This leaves for a real strange, almost comical resolution. And just when you think you’ve seen your last OMG moment, they hit you with a double whammy at the very end of the film. It’s a real “Wow, they did that?” type moment.

Despite the questionable story choices, they don’t ruin the film. At the end of the day, you want to see how it all ends for Christian Wolff. If you’re highly invested in the protagonist, that’s all you can ask for. While the script is hit or miss, the direction is strong. If you’re expecting some big public service announcement on autism, you don’t really get that. It’s more about how it affects this specific guy. While flawed, it’s definitely a movie that sticks with you, and is worth it for the great chemistry among the actors. It’s also entertaining as hell.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.