US, 2016, 128 minutes, Colour.
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.
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.
1. The title – leading to expectations?
2. The American settings, Chicago, Washington, shops and suburbs, homes, farms, offices, companies? The program for autistic children?
3. The introduction, the tone, police, the camera shadowing the police, the deaths, the room and stairs, the shadow of the gun? The killings – and the recap at the end, Ray King, the links, the consequences?
4. The range of threads in the plot, and their all being brought together satisfactorily – even to the end?
5. Washington, Ray King, about to retire, Treasury? His style, calling in Medina, the interview, her actual file, his hold over her, the quest, to find the accountant? His deadline? The details of her work, detection, studying the criminal gangs, the photos, the reconstruction of the face, the voice techniques, Simon Grundy and the repetition? The names of financial geniuses – with autism or Asperges? The agent and her checking each character? Her shrewdness, targeting Christian Wolff, the range of companies, the photo of the shopfront? Identifying him? Going to Ray?
6. The film and its focus on autism, audience response, knowledge of it? As a theme? The Institute, the director, his explanations to the parents? Diagnoses? The boy, his tantrums, losing a piece from the puzzle, the little girl helping, their friendship? His quiet brother looking on, protection? The parents wanting a normal life? The army background, taking him away? His relationship with his parents, his mother and her exasperation, leaving? His brother’s reaction, resenting her? Going to Indonesia, the training, the strong trainer, the father’s
demands, the boys developing their martial arts skills?
7. The flashbacks for explaining the accountant’s character? The funeral, his being in the Army with his father, their being ousted, the fight, the father’s death, the accountant going to prison? Meeting Francis in prison, their friendship? Francis communicating all the information, the accountant retaining it? His devotion to Francis? Francis training him how torecognise emotions? Francis as a character, the interviews with Ray, becoming an informant, the prison term, getting out, exposed and taken by the gangs, the torture, his death? The accountant and his wanting revenge? The initial killings and the explanation?
8. Christian, his shopfront, the couple and the interview about taxation, country people, his helping them? The manifestations of his autism, the narrow focus of attention, mathematical genius? Wanting to finish his tasks? The necklace, his suggesting the industry, suggesting the vehicle for their work, the dining room as an office? The tax help? The gratitude? Inviting him out, his hunting, the shooting scenes, illustrating his skills at such a distance – and preparing the audience for this in practice? The attack on the farm, the abduction of the couple, the car, the accuracy of his shooting?
9. Chris and his accountancy skills, working with all the criminal gangs, International? His motivations, finding out the gang who killed Francis and getting revenge? His skills, attention? The genius with numbers and maths? The donations to the institute for autism? His keeping cash?
10. Lamar Black employing him? The phone instructions from the female British voice? Meeting with Dana, her work, discovering the discrepancy, her amazement at his work? Sharing lunch, his autistic responses, not relating well? Drawing on Francis and his training how to recognise emotions? His examining the documents, covering the glass with statistics and dates? Finding the solution? Lamar Black’s friend, for many years, skimming the accounts, the killers coming, his diabetes, the overdose of insulin? Lamar’s sister, her suspicions? The discussions with Chris? Her death? The revelation of the boss behind the killings? His motivations, financial explanations, his wanting robotics to help people with injuries – and his showing Chris the extent of his work? His hiring the thugs? The killer? In the house, Chris infiltrating, killing the thugs, Lamar Black’s speech, Chris shooting him?
11. Simon Grundy, the brothers discovering each other, the hold off? Their talk, memories, the brother and his resentment towards Chris about going to the funeral and his father’s death? The killer seen in action, his skills compared with those of Chris? The reconciliation?
12. The attempt on the couple’s life, blaming Dana? Her being followed, the corridors, the killers, her refuge in the bathroom, her skills in defending herself? Chris rescuing her? Going to the lavish hotel? The talk, her personal story, art student, the story of her getting the dress for her prom, her skills with money, blackjack? Her being in the shed, discovering all his weapons, the paintings? The discussion about the dogs gambling? His leaving? The end and the gift of Jackson Pollock?
13. Ray, the complexity of his life, explaining to Medina, the chances he had, trying to make something of himself, his tracking the accountant, the accountant not killing him, being a family man? His dealings with Francis? The press conference, the praise for Medina, her praising Ray and their team work?
14. The Institute, the autistic boy and his parents, the tour, the director’s daughter and her autism, the expensive machine? And the irony of the British voice who telephoned Chris and setting him on all his quests – and it being the voice of her machine?
15. A satisfying ending, Dana and the paintings? Chris and his driving off in his caravan?