“The Accountant” – Assets equal liabilities plus stockholders’ equity. Debits equal credits. Revenues minus expenses equal profit or loss.
An Accounting 101 instructor teaches these basic rules during the first week of class, but in “The Accountant”, no simple equation can easily explain Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck). Chris owns a small accounting practice, ZZZ Accounting, in a random strip mall, but large corporations also hire him to find answers to seemingly impossible financial questions. Living Robotics brings him in to locate $61 million dollars, and he scans through piles of books and performs countless complex calculations in just one day that would probably take scores of staff accountants a month.
You see, Chris has a high functioning form of autism, and his mathematical gifts seem like a cinematic combination of Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman) of “Rain Man” (1988) and John Nash (Russell Crowe) of “A Beautiful Mind” (2001). Unlike Raymond and John, Chris also fires rifles like a black ops sniper and possesses the fighting prowess of a Navy SEAL with a black belt.
As you may surmise, Chris Wolff is not a typical C.P.A.
His wildly diverse set of skills seem utterly preposterous, but the movie plays it straight. Director Gavin O’Connor dives all-in to explain our hero’s tricky backstory via a series of flashbacks peppered throughout the film. The story – written by Bill Dubuque – tries really hard to develop Chris and convey what makes him tick. We see how his autism – as a kid - impacted his family dynamics and sparked his father’s methods to “toughen him up” through a series of brutal martial arts classes.
Although these scenes are important in explaining this modern-day secret weapon with a penchant for forensic accounting, less time spent in the past would have still been effective in illuminating the present. From an action film perspective, more screen time with Affleck’s entertaining performance as a number cruncher/killing machine trumps his character’s countless struggles as kid.
One place that the film certainly does not struggle with is the relationship between Chris and Dana (Anna Kendrick), a staff accountant at Living Robotics, and Kendrick channels her terrific performance as a professional newbie in 2009’s “Up in the Air” into this film. Dana brings sincere pleasantries and a curious naivety, and these vibes strike the right chords with Chris and his buried emotions.
The result is Kendrick and Affleck’s onscreen stretches offer warmth and humor. In one example, Dana attempts to share her time with Chris during their lunch break on the outdoor steps of Living Robotics. While Chris tries to bury himself in his routines in solitude, Dana asks him innocent, probing questions and briefly mentions her slightly embarrassing trip to Cancun. Several moments like this allow Chris to connect with someone, and likewise, allow the audience to connect with him.
The humor works in other unexpected places as well, and it usually appears when Chris demonstrates his talents not normally seen in an accountant with a handy pocket protector.
A very good supporting cast surrounds Affleck and Kendrick, including J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson and Jon Bernthal, and the movie spends meaningful portions of screen time to develop the emotional natures of their supporting characters as well. Normally, I would applaud such efforts, but in this case, the additional gravitas do not match the more shallow and silly action film tones. In other words, with a noticeably long runtime of 2 hours and 8 minutes, the script unnecessarily delves too deep.
Still, the movie – like a good accountant – ties up all its loose ends in (mostly) clever ways and potentially positions itself for “The Accountant 2 – A New Audit”. I will probably see a sequel, because Affleck’s character introduces a new equation to the cinematic world: the pen is equally as mighty as the sword. (2.5/4 stars)