THE ACCOUNTANT, US, 2016. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai- Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger. Directed by Gavin O'Connor. 128 minutes. Rated MA (strong violence).
Here is a very entertaining thriller that keeps the audience continually alert, needing to pay attention to the wide-ranging plot developments. With such a simple title, The Accountant, not much is revealed – but the screenplay offers quite an amount of revelation. This review perhaps errs on the side of cautiousness in not revealing any of the key aspects of the plot.
One of the major themes of this film is autism. It opens at an Institute in the 1980s and a little boy, who has the makings of a genius, manifests the narrow autistic focus as well as the potential for being deeply disturbed by failure in what he wanted to accomplish and physical and psychological effects. His military father decides that he needs to face the world rather than an institution, even though the boy has made friends with a little girl there.
Then we see the boy as an adult, the accountant, working in a suburban shopfront, advising a farming couple in financial straits, very direct, unemotional, but knowing what he should do. They befriend him, invite into their home for hunting, and he accepts to visit for shooting – at which he is more than expert.
Also at the beginning of the film, the camera shadows a policeman crossing a street, gun drawn, scuffles in the street, shots inside a building, going up a staircase – and the silhouette of the gun on the wall. Fade to black. When there is a recap of this scene later in the film, it opens up all kinds of questions.
One of the key factors for the entertainment given by this film is the well written screenplay, which would seem to be based on one of those high-powered action thriller novels but is, in fact, an original piece of writing. Important in the screenplay are the flashbacks and the moments of insertion into the narrative, always revealing just that bit more about the accountant, his growing up, his father and his brother caring for him, and gradually more information as to how he became such a significant accountant and a phone voice telling him where to go for different jobs.
A praiseworthy aspect of the screenplay is that with so many threads, they are gradually brought together in ways we were not anticipating, interesting connections which throw light on the accountant and other characters, even to the very end where the screenplay does not push the final piece of information but more subtly lets the audience become aware of it, bringing it all to a satisfying ending.
Ben Affleck is the accountant. This is one of his better performances, his being able to capitalise on what some critics have referred to as his woodenness in performance – he brings it to bear on the focused autistic characteristics, the genius of maths, the intensity of finishing work undertaken, being taught how to recognise emotional situations while not being able to identify with them. In this he is very much helped by the character played by Jeffrey Tambor.
The film has a very interesting supporting cast with Anna Kendrick as an accountant who uncovers financial discrepancies at her company, which is run by John Lithgow, assisted by his sister, Jean Smart. There are hired killers, especially one played by John Bernthal who becomes entangled with the accountant. J. K. Simmons is the head of an investigative department of Treasury in Washington and Cynthia Addai- Robinson is effective as the young Treasury official who is commissioned to investigate the accountant and identify him.
Those who like this film very much, as this reviewer does, would hope that audiences would share the interest, the intrigue, and the satisfying bringing together of so many plot threads.
Roadshow Released 3rd November
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.