by Rob DiCristino
It's easy to see why developmental disorders and super-heroism are intrinsically connected in popular culture. Most superheroes are “enhanced” versions of humanity; they’re us, but with that one extra trait that makes them extraordinary. It’s that extra bit that helps them slay the dragons that consume the rest of us, that extra bit that makes us admire them. Through focus and training, they hone their supposed defects into strengths. It’s only natural for us to extend that same admiration to those on the spectrum: we celebrate Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Babbit, and Abed Nadir for bringing these disorders into the limelight in the service of good, and they’re just a few of the powerful, intuitive, and emotionally-intelligent characters who use their unique skills to help us learn more about each other and ourselves.
Christian Wolff, the ass-kicking number-cruncher played by Ben Affleck in Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant, aims to be the next. He’s Bourne, Wick, and Reacher all rolled into a socially-awkward, Batman-shaped cocktail of pain. But while we might one day look forward to the continued adventures of The Pocket Protector, his first film fails to deliver on its considerable promise and falls victim to convoluted plotting and weak characterization.
The Accountant is a film at war with itself: sometimes it wants to be a thoughtful meditation on trauma, other times it wants to be an ensemble action thriller. Though we’re led to believe that Wolff has a clear and immovable moral code, we’re never quite sure what it is or who crosses it or when. Flashbacks highlight the most formative moments of his past (many of them extremely well-constructed), but it’s never clear how those memories influence what’s currently at stake. There’s an interesting thread about how we’re often too weak or ill-equipped to cross certain emotional or social boundaries, but that isn’t really paid off, either. Still another thread deals with family, another with romantic love, and a few with ethics and responsibility, but none of them fit together with any real sense of unity. We’re often introduced to conflicts after they’ve already been resolved, and there’s a third act exposition dump that brings the entire thing to a screeching halt.
By far its greatest sin, though, is wasting a stellar cast. Affleck continues his Downey-esque rise from the Hollywood ashes, delivering a Christian Wolff who is clearly handicapped but never pathetic. He leans into his trademark oafishness in a big, friendly giant sort of way, which leads to some great moments. It would have been interesting to see how he navigates a world outside his comfort zone, but we never get there. It might have been fun to see his sexual tension with Kendrick’s Dana Cummings transform into some kind of lasting friendship, but we never get there, either. They’re both pushed to the side in favor of a federal investigation subplot that has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the story whatsoever. Simmons and Addai-Robinson do some quality acting, but their thread is the most mind-boggling waste of time in the entire film. There’s a moment of celebration in the last few minutes in which we genuinely need to be reminded what was at stake and what we’re supposed to be celebrating. John Lithgow’s role might have evoked his De Palma days with a bit of tweaking, but he (along with the great Jeffrey Tambor) are sorely underwritten and lack real story purpose. Jon Bernthal is having a lot of fun in his own direct-to-video action movie, but he doesn’t leave us with very much in this one.