Ben Affleck has officially hit the “injuring people with a bathroom sink” stage in his career. In the same year that brought us Affleck’s sinewy, glowering take on Batman, along comes The Accountant: a film in which he plays another multi-millionaire with a double life. Here, Affleck’s an indescribably tough mercenary who kills bad guys for his own, initially obscure ends – hence another moment involving a bathroom sink and a man’s skull.
The twist in The Accountant is that Affleck’s hero Christian Wolff is also qualified to sort out your taxes, like Jack Reacher with a master’s degree in bookkeeping.
The Accountant is a monumentally weird film: a story so at war at itself that it feels like the work of two separate filmmakers. On one side we have the dramatic moments, which imply that The Accountant is a slow-burning character study akin to Anton Corbijn’s The American; on the other, there are the action sequences, which are more akin to something from a late-career Steven Seagal film. We first see Wolff as a young boy diagnosed with autism: extraordinarily gifted at maths, yet withdrawn and socially awkward. Wolff’s father, a military man, has a hard-nosed attitude to his son’s condition, and so he has Wolff and his younger brother trained in martial arts and the operation of heavy artillery.
All of this partly explains why Wolff leads a double life as an adult, crunching numbers by day and offing mobsters on the side; the story’s flashpoint comes when he’s asked to sort out the accounts at a tech company owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow). Wolff’s digging around in the company’s finances soon gets him and another accountant, the sweet-natured Dana (Anna Kendrick) in trouble with a gang of mercenaries led by a dapper Jon Bernthal, while a government agent played by JK Simmons is also on Wolff’s trail.
Aside from collecting paintings and geek memorabilia (he has a mint issue of Action Comics issue one in a drawer), Wolff’s other passion is to go out in the middle of nowhere and shoot honeydew melons with the kind of ordnance a soldier might use to sink a battleship. It’s a symbol of the film’s bizarre mix of low-key characterisation and violent overkill: if you thought Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Equalizer was weird, with its ex-military hero working at a DIY store and attacking people with power tools, wait until you see The Accountant. This is a film which attempts to square a fairly detailed study of Wolff’s inner life – his private anxieties, his obsession with completing intricate tasks, his assorted childhood traumas – with a plot that moves ever deeper into preposterous and contrived territory.
By the second half, Anna Kendrick’s vanished – her character only here, it seems, to help humanise Wolff – and the story descends into a string of protracted shoot-outs and eye-rolling coincidences. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) makes the violent sequences pop, and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (We Need To Talk About Kevin, Godzilla) gives the film as a whole a clean, precise look.
If only The Accountant were as taut and controlled as its production values and its protagonist. Wolff, who’s a sympathetic chap in the movie’s first act, seems borderline psychotic by the last; and by this point, the way the story plays out has even the supporting characters wondering aloud what the heck is going on. Affleck, Simmons, Benthal and an underused Kendrick are all on point; sadly, The Accountant proves to be an action thriller that ends not so much with a bang, but a groan.
The Accountant is out in UK cinemas on the 4th October.