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The Accountant (2016)
Movie Reviews

The Accountant (2016)

A reprehensible film with the most offensive and unrealistic depictions of genuine developmental disorders.

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The Accountant is a reprehensible film that regards Asperger’s Syndrome not as a genuine, complex developmental disorder but as a quirk that can be molded and channelled towards becoming an indestructible killing machine. Such was the fate of the title character (Ben Affleck), whose actual name is never given but is known as primarily as Christian Wolff, one of many aliases based off of famous mathematicians. He’s a mathematical savant who works freelance as an accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. He’s also a Jack Reacher action hero type, having access to an arsenal, able to take on and take out entire squads of well-armed assassins in a flurry of unbelievably brutal self-defense maneuvers.

Various flashback sequences reveal he was trained to be this way by his father, a vile, emotionless military man who refused to accept the reality that living with Asperger’s requires special needs. Instead, he subjected his son, along with his kid brother, to a series of cruel and unusual physical and psychological exercises with the intention of “bringing out” their natural assets. In one especially cringe-inducing flashback, the father sits idly by as a martial arts instructor beats the living crap out of his boys. The instructor, finally realizing what he’s doing, asks to stop, claiming that the boys have done their best. “If that was true,” the father says coldly, “you’d be dripping blood and snot instead of them. Keep going.”

The most offensive thing about this movie is that Wolff’s more realistic behavioral traits – his lack of social graces, his short and direct sentences, having just one fork, one knife, and one spoon precisely organized in a kitchen drawer, making exactly three eggs, three slices of bacon, and three pancakes for breakfast and organizing them on his plate in a very exact way – are there only when it best serves the story. The rest of the time, he’s doing and saying things no actual Asperger’s patient would do. Consider his nightly ritual of bombarding his senses with a flashing strobe light and loud death metal music while rubbing a wooden dowel over his legs, presumably in an effort to deaden the nerves and thus take more severe beatings when in combat.

The plot involves Wolff taking on new client, a high-tech robotics company run by John Lithgow, and slowly uncovering the fact that a multimillion dollar discrepancy in the company’s books hides an awful truth. He’s aided by an accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick), who in due time, and you’ll have to forgive me for being vague, finds herself in danger. I can accept the narrative need for a female sidekick. Much harder to accept is when a female sidekick is used strictly for the purpose of getting the hero to lower his defenses and reveal intimate details. Every time Wolff gives the clerk a new tidbit of personal information, it plays as if the filmmakers believe Asperger’s is some kind of emotional defense mechanism that can be dismantled piece by piece. To treat something this complicated so cavalierly is appalling.

But it’s not entirely about the way Affleck’s character is developed. There are also issues with a subplot involving a Treasury Department Crime Division specialist (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who’s hot on Wolff’s trail. She was blackmailed into taking the job by the Division’s head (J.K. Simmons). I won’t reveal what information the head threaten to expose. I will say that, when it’s eventually revealed why the head is so vested in the Wolff case, it should become obvious, even to the most casual observer, that his blackmailing of the specialist was unwarranted. What did the filmmakers hope to achieve by going that route, narratively speaking? Add suspense? Tension can only be built on subplots that make sense.

There are also several scenes with a nonchalant, lethal, smooth-talking assassin (Jon Bernthal), who will eventually factor into a plot twist so transparent that its revelation is an anticlimax. But when you think about it, everything about The Accountant is anticlimactic, simply because it hinges on the actions of a character that’s not only offensively and one-dimensionally developed but also uninteresting. Yet again, I must complain about the convention of the indestructible hero; when all the weaknesses and complexities of authentic human beings, heroes included, are stripped away, they become implausible, impenetrable, and just plain boring. There are few things I dislike more than a character we know right off the bat will get out of every scrape, almost always unscathed.

About the Author: Chris Pandolfi