All-Star cast fails to save drab direction in “The Accountant”

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

Although Ben Affleck was recently on a roll with his directorial effort in “Argo” and well-chosen role in “Gone Girl,” his streak ends as he takes on the titular role in Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant.”

Affleck’s character is Will Hunting meets Jason Bourne: A man who is brilliant in math and invincible in a fight. He is joined by a dynamite cast of Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert C. Treveiler and the deliciously evil Jon Bernthal. But aside from Affleck and Bernthal, their characters are underdeveloped and have minimal screen time.

“The Accountant” is overly long and convoluted, and a more detailed plot description might fill an entire page. It follows Christian Wolff (Affleck), an autistic mathematician with a hard childhood and a particular affinity for managing major criminals’ books. Wolff is called to help Lithgow’s company and bank accounts as two agents try to put Wolff behind bars. All the while, Bernthal leads some sort of private army hunting Wolff. The film has an unnecessary amount of subplots, including a treasury agent (Simmons) retiring, a new agent (Addai-Robinson) erasing a dark past, a father (Treveiler) struggling to raise an autistic child, the leadership and employees of a crooked company (Lithgow and Kendrick) and the leader of a private army (Bernthal).

Although the script fumbles with the high-concept idea, it remains somewhat engaging mostly due to Affleck’s performance as Wolff. He full-heartedly sells playful moments of awkwardness, as well as stone-faced action sequences or an occasional panic attack.

From a plot standpoint, Bernthal’s character only exists to remind the audience that Wolff faces an enemy with a similar violent skill set. Bernthal takes this role and runs with it, performing as a sort of dark mirror to Affleck’s socially awkward accountant. He fully sells the role of a southern-accented and somewhat charming murderer, making just as large an impact as Affleck in about one-fourth
the screen-time. 

The other performances are lacking, with big-name stars delivering neither great nor terrible portrayals of two-dimensional characters.

The greatest problem with the film is not its hard-to-follow script or poorly-used cast, but its absolutely boring direction by O’Connor. The script deals with an interesting idea, and much of the cast is having fun, but the entire story plays out with no style at all. About 90 percent of the film is dialogue. This is not inherently detrimental to a film, but O’Connor fails to make these moments interesting. When Affleck is in a scene, the film has three possible shots: him talking, a reverse shot of someone else talking or a low-angle shot off Affleck looking angsty.

Recent action films such as “John Wick” or even “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” have specific stylistic elements during fight scenes. “Wick” uses clear, two-dimensional shots of the action, whereas “Captain America” uses quick editing and close-ups to disorient the viewer yet keep them informed. But “The Accountant” does neither, shooting the few action beats slowly as if they were scenes of Affleck and Kendrick discussing mathematical gibberish. 

Although Affleck’s recent output has been strong, Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant” is a muddled, convoluted mess of a film, with decent elements that just do not add up.

“The Accountant”

Rating: R

Runtime: 128 minutes

Score: 2/5 stars