We’ve been having fun here with The Accountant since the first trailer dropped (with Brian Grubb affectionately dubbing it “Nerd Assassin”), so I expected it to be funny. What I didn’t expect was for it to be funny on purpose. The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck as, yes, an autistic assassin accountant (Sheiler, get in heah! Have you seen these fackin’ numbahs? These books ah moah retahded than yoah cousin Richie!) is every bit the schlockfest I’d hoped for, and legitimately compelling to boot. A blind lawyer, an autistic accountant, a bloviating Batman — is there anything Ben Affleck can’t play? The Accountant is such a capable origin story that I’d happily watch a few more of these. It’s the year’s best superhero movie by a mile.
Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a prodigy accountant and high-functioning autistic who makes his living un-borking the books for drug lords and international arms dealers. Why would such a peerless number cruncher choose to work with society’s most slimy and dangerous when he presumably has other options? Why, for the challenge, of course. “Everybody is hiding something,” he tells his mysterious, disembodied female fixer (think Joan Cusack in Grosse Point Blank). “At least there’s honor among thieves.”
It’s hard to tell whether him twisting this famous expression into its exact opposite is a deliberate joke or if he’s oblivious to it, on account of his clinically flat affect. In any case, the thrill of a tough job done thoroughly is much more important to Wolff than the money, though he does have a secret Gulfstream trailer filled with bundles of cash and gold and priceless art and Honus Wagner baseball cards. And only one set of silverware, because he’s very minimalist. He also apparently freaks around vacuum cleaners, like my dog.
Do I even need to point out how much more interesting a setup this is than spider bites or soldier serums? And I haven’t even gotten to the part about how he was raised by a psy-ops soldier father and trained in martial arts by an Indonesian Pencak silat master. This script, written by Bill Dubuque, really has everything, and the fact that Wolff’s superpower is also his disability gives director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) a lot to work with. He’s the LeBron James of accountants, and it makes sense that some of these skills would also translate to killing. So thorough! So detail-oriented! Can instantly calculate the effect of wind velocity on a .50 cal bullet! Icy nerves? Stone-cold ruthlessness? He can barely perceive emotions, let alone be affected by them! The accountant of The Accountant is essentially a Ben Affleck-shaped Robocop.
There are plenty of movies about badass assassins and smooth-talking mercenaries — too many, some might even say — but most of them are a kind of competence porn. Look at the ease with which Liam Neeson dispatches bad guys. And why shouldn’t he? He has a particular set of skills! This has been a thing since Sean Connery played Bond, and I get it: It’s fun to watch someone be good at something. But at a certain point it loses both its novelty and believability. The difference between your Bournes, your Stathams, God forbid your John Cenas — and Ben Affleck’s character in The Accountant, is that, sure, he’s freakishly competent in some areas, but he’s also a hopeless dork. When Anna Kendrick’s character tries to wring some social interaction out of him, she tells Wolff how her father could never understand her interest in art. “He was more of a dogs-playing-poker kind of guy,” she tells him.
“I love dogs playing poker,” Wolff says. “It’s funny, because dogs would never bet on anything. It’s incongruous.”
He eats his food only in sets of threes, wears the same t-shirt every day after work to unwind (it says Sriracha on it), and rocks out to metal for precisely 20 minutes before he takes his Zoloft. We first meet him when he’s a boy, in the midst of a mini freakout because he can’t find the last piece of the puzzle he’s been working on — picture side down, because he’s much better at abstract shapes than human faces, naturally. The scene is, I suppose, important backstory, and it’s mercifully short. I say mercifully, because the only thing worse than average child actors are average child actors pretending to be “special.” Oh God, it’s so uncomfortable. If I ever become a criminal suspect, the FBI could use scenes to make me give up my accomplices.
After that, the major players are Affleck’s Wolff, Jeffrey Tambor as Wolff’s jailhouse mentor in “black money,” John Lithgow as the owner of a robotics company who hires Wolff to find an embezzler, Kendrick as the in-house accountant assigned to help Wolff, J.K. Simmons as the Treasury officer hunting him, and Jon Bernthal as a rival assassin and Wolff’s foil — where Wolff is a cold, emotionless, rules-stickler good guy, Bernthal’s character is a gregarious, articulate, charming bad guy. It should go without saying just from reading those names, but this is a fantastic cast.
Sure, The Accountant has a third act “twist” that you might have predicted just from reading that last paragraph, and a complete lack of facility with hand-to-hand combat scenes (shaky, dark, and hacked to pieces, which you wouldn’t expect from a director whose best-reviewed film was an MMA movie) but it has a way of executing the semi-expected in such a way that makes it almost as fun as a total surprise. It also has lots of actual executions, performed with an aloof expression and ruthless obliviousness. I had no idea “a ruthless badass because he’s clinically lacking in empathy” would be so much more enjoyable than “a ruthless badass because he has amnesia” or the other three spy plots du jour. Is The Accountant the world’s first Asploitation film?
As ridiculous, semi-exploitative, and schlocky as The Accountant is, it still manages an ending that’s, dare I say it, legitimately touching. It’s transparent in its attempt both to pimp a future franchise and give autistic kids their own superhero. There’s a genuine sweetness to the latter that converts me on the former. Headshots, math problems, and pained social interactions? Sign me up. Of the two movies Ben Affleck has been in so far this year, The Accountant and Batman V Superman, The Accountant has by far the most franchise potential.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.