“Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” So sang Betty Hutton to Howard Keel in 1950’s Annie Get Your Gun, which was about the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley. How appropriate that line was referring to gunfire because I think it’s what Ben Affleck had in mind when taking the lead role in the action-thriller-with-some-humor-and-family-drama-plus-romantic-comedy-elements, The Accountant. And, in my imagining, Ben is singing those lines to his good friend Matt Damon.
Damon of course made the Jason Bourne movies, about an amnesiac secret agent who fights and kills his way over (what are we up to now, four or five?) a series of movies. Playing Batman might not have been enough for Affleck because that was too comic book. No, he needed to one up ole Matt in the gritty, true life, crime-action world, and, to use a pun, he flipped the script on their Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting effort, where, this time, it is Ben –not Matt- who plays an oddball mathematical genius.
That’s about where the comparison ends to GWH, for Affleck’s ‘accountant’ is anything but a South Boston janitor rubbing elbows and fractions with MIT professors. He’s an autistic, forensic accountant who also has fighting and weapons skills that even Rambo, or yes, Jason Bourne, might envy.
Perhaps it’s cynical of me, but I’m picturing a script development meeting where it seemed too obvious to have Affleck play something similar to Damon’s Bourne, so to differentiate the character they made him autistic. How the autistic community will react to the portrayal of a person so afflicted, I do not know, but the strange conclusion of The Accountant feels like a radio ad for Autism Speaks.
You may have heard those PSAs; the ones where Tommy Hilfiger, Beyonce, and others give the odds of succeeding in their industry and then relate those odds to the likelihood of knowing someone with autism. I’m sure The Accountant is not what the producers of the radio commercials had in mind in trying to raise awareness of autism, but perhaps it will be a very imperfect vessel towards that end.
Regardless of the extra-textual angle, how does The Accountant succeed as a movie? I was hooked in the beginning, but about halfway through the movie frayed. There are many plot lines, with the main one the most confusing. To boil it down, someone who hired the accountant to uncover embezzlement, later does him wrong, and he wants revenge. In pretty clichéd fashion, he kills the villain, saves the girl, and rides off into the sunset on an appaloosa in a Ford F-150. There is a subplot about a government agent trying to track the accountant down and locate him, but it doesn’t entirely gel with the main story and leaves the viewer feeling as if it was tacked on to get the movie up to feature running time.
But back to the main plot where, a la Rain Man, Affleck’s accountant is a whiz with numbers and problem solving. Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Raymond,’ however, the accountant is highly functioning with a military background. In fact, he’s so able, he leaves in his wake a trail of corpses. We are meant to sympathize and root for him, but with a kill count at least in the dozens, can we be certain he has never slaughtered an innocent? Some of his number-crunching work is done on behalf of cartels, mobsters, and other evil men, yet he channels a lot of the payments he receives toward neuroscience research. Is he saint, sinner, both, or neither? These are the questions I asked myself, but I’m not sure the film was attempting any moral ambiguity. What I thought was going to be a thriller with some depth and subtext could not fulfill that promise. Though there was some crisp and fun writing at the outset, the latter half was no more than a bland action film whose goal felt merely to become a franchise.
After receiving multiple wounds in the movie’s climactic battle, we see that a few scenes later, the accountant is alive and well, driving on to the next town where he will no doubt kill more bad guys and probably save a local business from bankruptcy. Not to be outdone by Matt Damon and the Bourne movies, allow me to predict we will all soon see Ben Affleck in The Accountant 2: Routine Audit, or, possibly, The Accountant 2: Filing Next Year.
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick , J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow
Running Time: 128 minutes