When Keanu Reeves graced us with his presence as John Wick in 2014 it was perhaps the most welcome surprise at the cinema that year. Two old Hollywood stuntmen (Chad Stahelski & David Leitch) knew the power of Keanu and placed the man in a series of increasingly wild situations to shoot his way out of. The man barely even spoke (if there was ever a better example of understanding Keanu’s strengths…I haven’t seen it) – like any great action star, he lets his face-punching do the talking.
It was pure exploitation and bless it for that. So rarely anymore does Hollywood give Director’s a middle of the road budget and a chance to tell their story. It’s why John Wick felt so fresh yet comforting. Like being wrapped in the arms of a sweet roundhouse kick to the head.
So color me excited when a film like The Accountant shows up on the release calendar. It has all the makings of late-70’s, early-80’s Wickian exploitation. A middle-aged movie star having a comeback moment. A plot about a man with a secretive second life, trying to make it in the real world. Even an intensely boring title! The poster for The Accountant says, “Calculate your choices.” It’s a stupendously dumb tagline. I would’ve gone with, “Your books are cooked.” Alas, we can’t have it all.
Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff – an accountant in rural Illinois. His practice is called ZZZ Accounting – because that’s not conspicuous at all. When Wolff isn’t helping farmers itemize their deductions he’s helping high profile criminals hide their various financial misgivings (he also knows karate and is a great shot – for hilarious reasons I won’t reveal here.) Wolff has autism but is high-functioning, allowing him to live a somewhat normal life. He has an odd routine (get home, park truck in garage, turn on heavy metal and a strobe light, foam roll his legs) but as long as he sticks to it, things remain normal.
Wolff is hired by a state-of-the-art robotics firm run by John Lithgow because a small time accountant (Anna Kendrick) thinks she’s found something peculiar in their books. She’s suspicious but the amount of work it would take for her to find the anomaly would be insurmountable. Luckily Wolff is a super accountant, who, armed with a bevy of dry erase markers figures it out in one day (He’s sort of Will Hunting Wick.)
Not all is well though in the world of espionage accounting. The treasury department is on to him led by a small time analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and her tough talking boss (J.K. Simmons.) They know the accountant has been linked to numerous high-profile, villainous men but his back is turned in every surveillance photo (what are the odds!) Also – who knew the treasury department was getting down on heavy geopolitical issues – good on ya America.
Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) takes his time with this goofy setup and the development is nicely paced. All of it’s absurd but O’Connor knows this and plays it all with a straight face, laced with tiny bits of humor. Affleck is actually very good in the role, using a deadpan delivery to great, sometimes menacing effect. He has a nice chemistry with Kendrick too, who leverages her (now signature) screen personality with an ease welcome in this dark world.
Ultimately The Accountant never quite lives up to the promise of its silliness. The action is competent (sometimes beautiful) – with fantastic sound direction when the bullets start flying – but can’t always make up for the various twists and reveals, all which land with a thud. Still, with franchises dominating the cinema I found it refreshingly weird to spend the time with this karate-CPA. He might not be as cool as John Wick but he could beat the shit out of Will Hunting.