Lord in heaven help me, I cannot stop watching The Accountant. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. Actually, no. I have not tried. I’ve watched it five times in the last two weeks. I watched it again the other night kind of by accident. I don’t even know how it happened. Like, one minute I was flipping through my cable guide looking for something to leave on in the background while I worked, and the next thing I knew it was two hours later and I was watching HBO and Ben Affleck was hauling his trailer off into the great unknown. It was some extremely “whoops I watched The Fugitive on AMC on a rainy Saturday again” stuff, which is strange, because I didn’t expect The Accountant to become that kind of movie. And yet, here we are. I might watch it again tonight. It’s really getting out of hand.
The time has come to talk about The Accountant.
1. The plot, in short, goes something like this: Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a polite small-town accountant with a high-functioning form of autism who also un-cooks the books for criminal organizations and is an assassin who was trained to fight by his father, an army officer specializing in Psychological Operations, after his mother left the two of them and his younger brother, Braxton, because raising a special needs child proved to be too much for her. Christian’s handler — a voice on the other end of the phone — gives him a new legitimate accounting case while the heat cools off in other areas. The job is for a robotics firm that has uncovered an issue with its books and wants to clear it up before going public. Guess if everything is not as it seems.
(Everything is not as it seems.)
While all of this is taking place, the head of the government’s financial crimes unit is also trying to uncover the identity of this mysterious “accountant,” and has enlisted a young agent with a dark past — which he uses to blackmail her, of course — to help him with the hunt. Guess if everything is as it seems.
(Everything is not as it seems.)
So that’s one way to set things up. Or we could just go with the actual summary HBO Go uses:
Ben Affleck is magnetizing as an autistic math savant whose calm, bespectacled exterior as an accountant hides a dark secret: he cooks the books for criminals and has the fighting skills of a ninja. When his work for a legitimate client takes a dangerous turn, he must trade in his pocket protector for an AK-47 if he wants to live.
“He must trade in his pocket protector for an AK-47 if he wants to live.” I want to take this collection of words out for a lobster dinner.
2. It’s not just Ben Affleck who is in this movie. Everyone is in this movie. Anna Kendrick is in this movie as the in-house accountant at the robotics firm who first discovers the issue. John Lithgow and Jean Smart are in this movie as the heads of the robotics firm. J.K. Simmons is in this movie as the head of the Treasury Department financial crimes unit. Cynthia Addai-Robinson from Arrow and the TV version of Shooter is in this movie as the young agent he recruits. Jon Bernthal is in this movie as the murderous head of a private security firm. Alison Wright — Martha from The Americans — is in this movie as the adult version of a young girl Christian meets briefly at a neuroscience center for patients with developmental disabilities. Heck, even Jeffrey Tambor is in this movie, for about 90 seconds, as Christian’s jailhouse money laundering mentor.
This last one is so weird. Like, they got multiple Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor to play a role that has next-to-no dialogue. It’s like they saw one episode of Arrested Development and said, “Hey, we need an older inmate who was involved with shady financial things. Let’s call that guy!” I have no idea why Jeffrey Tambor is in this movie. But Jeffrey Tambor is in this movie!
3. There is, I swear to God, a full-on montage of Ben Affleck doing accounting.
4. Anna Kendrick’s character, Dana, is quirky. Fun quirky. You know, like Anna Kendrick in the other movies she’s in. At one point she tells Christian a long story about learning to count cards to pay for a prom dress but then losing all her money right away and then winning enough for the dress anyway by playing a nickel slot machine on her way out of the casino. Twenty years ago, this story would have been a full-length movie starring Rachel Leigh Cook and Freddie Prinze, Jr.
5. That’s not even the best story anyone tells, either. Not even close. At about the 90-minute mark of the movie — after Christian has uncovered Lithgow’s plot, and survived an attempt on his life, and saved Dana, and snipered about a half-dozen melons that he drew faces on for some reason — J.K. Simmons sits down with the agent he’s training and gives a solid 10-minute monologue that is overflowing with exposition. It’s incredible. We learn so many things. Things about Christian’s past, things about Jeffrey Tambor’s character, things about the mob massacre that opens the movie, etc. Most importantly (spoilers coming in hot), we learn that Christian and his handler — the voice on the phone — have been tipping J.K. Simmons off to crimes moments before they happen, and Simmons made his entire career based on these tips from a criminal and murderer, and the whole thing with the younger agent was a test to see if she can handle the tips when he retires in six months.
I know that paragraph seemed like a lot. Trust me, that’s nothing. You have to hear the entire speech. It’s like they had an entire prequel mapped out and then at the last minute were all, “Eh, let’s just have J.K. Simmons explain it all in a voiceover that starts over 75 percent of the way through the film.” I love it so much. I wish more movies did this, just ripping off 90 minutes of action, then having J.K. Simmons sit down and explain the entire plot in 10 minutes, then closing with 30 more minutes of action. It could have really livened up Whiplash.
6. Hey, wanna see Ben Affleck whack a knife-wielding henchman in the face with a belt?
7. Here’s the thing about The Accountant: Ben Affleck literally played Batman in a movie in 2016 and somehow The Accountant was easily the best Batman movie he made that year. A lot of the same framework is there:
- young man loses parent
- gets trained in military-style combat
- uses his training to bring down criminals using methods that fall outside the standard criminal justice system
- has a secret identity
- has a secret lair filled with gadgets and weapons
- has a phone line that goes directly to a high-ranking law enforcement figure
And so on. Admittedly the bar was low because Batman v Superman was… not good, but his character is basically a mask and cape and a few billion dollars away from being Bruce Wayne. Although, I suppose, aren’t we all, in a way?
(We are not.)
8. Perhaps you thought the huge corkscrewing load of revelations that J.K. Simmons dropped would be the major twist in this movie. Well, it is, kind of, but it also is not. From the time J.K. Simmons starts talking until the closing credits, this sucker is wall-to-wall twists. Secret brother? Check. Priceless painting hidden under a painting of dogs playing poker? Check. A reveal about who his handler is that calls back all the way to the beginning of the movie and explains so much in hindsight? Check check check. It’s the best, like John Wick meets The Sixth Sense, but without the ghosts. Probably.
9. Speaking of John Wick, boy oh boy does this movie love a good silencer headshot, too. I respect it greatly for that.
10. A sequel was just announced and I could not be more excited. I hope it opens with another long speech by J.K. Simmons that fills us in on what happened between movies. I hope there’s more accounting. (There will definitely be more accounting.) I hope there are more headshots. (There will definitely be more headshots.) But mostly, I hope this becomes Affleck’s Bourne franchise, right down to him hopping to a new continent for each movie and at least one of them running on basic cable at all times. Especially that last part. The Accountant was destined for basic cable from the instant it was released. It must fulfill that destiny, even if I never get anything done ever again.