‘Bourne Will Hunting’: Affleck kicks butt as ‘Accountant’ savant

July 22, 2024 | WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'The Accountant' (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Imagine Matt Damon handing his bud a mash-up of roles.

Take the IQ of “Good Will Hunting” and combine it with the combat skills of “Jason Bourne” and you get Ben Affleck’s latest action vehicle “The Accountant,” which is as erratically entertaining and surprisingly comical as it is maddening for its over-plotted script that tries too hard to outthink itself.

Christian Wolff (Affleck) is an autistic math savant who has trouble relating to people in social situations, but is the go-to guy to cook the books for dangerous criminal organizations. Operating out of a strip mall C.P.A. office and working with new partner Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), he takes on a new client with a robotics company run by the wealthy but shady Lamar Black (John Lithgow).

As Christian and Dana investigate a financial discrepancy worth millions of dollars, the Treasury Department launches an investigation by agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), his determined protégé Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and witness protection informant (Jeffrey Tambor).

For much of the movie, the film is an absolute riot for audiences thanks to the hilariously awkward interactions between the well-meaning Kendrick and the socially awkward Affleck. It’s an against-type casting choice, as Affleck is much quieter than his hero in “Argo” (2012), not to mention still jacked from Batman, having shot this concurrently with “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad.”

The distant, stone-faced expressions may very well be an extension of his “Gone Girl” (2014) role, where his poker face was admirably hard to read in determining his guilt. Now, his expressionless look is the result of the autism spectrum, which would be a trap for most actors. Thankfully, it never once feels like it’s poking fun, mining empathy like “Rain Man” (1988) or “Forrest Gump” (1994).

This careful sense of humor is pleasantly surprising for a film presented as a white-knuckler in the trailers. Props to screenwriter Bill Dubuque (“The Judge”) for witty dialogue and director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) for coaching memorable performances out of a subject filled with landmines.

O’Connor also directs some impressive action that’s surprisingly easy to follow from cut to cut. The fight scenes are well staged with tense shots fired from gun scopes and crowd-pleasing hand-to-hand combat with killer finishing moves. While most action directors throw out the proverbial kitchen sink to the point of dizziness, O’Connor carefully choreographs his battles — right down to a kitchen sink.

His directorial flair is best on display in Affleck’s bedroom, using a strobe light and hard rock music as he toughens his shinbones with a masochistic routine to turn his body into a human weapon. It’s a training regiment steeped in the director’s sports films “Miracle” (2004) and “Warrior” (2009), but with a dangerous edge that recalls a chiseled Max Cady hanging upside-down in “Cape Fear” (1991).

Between the action, O’Connor offers clever compositions, such as a victim’s face reflected in a picture frame, or an engrossing shot-reverse-shot sequence through the crack of a closing door.

Still, for all the directorial prowess and snappy dialogue for the first two thirds of the film, the script soundly jumps the shark with an extended back story flashback sequence narrated by J.K. Simmons. Not only is it confusing with a convoluted, out-of-order account of past events, it seems to go on forever, like its own mini-movie that pulls focus from the enjoyable movie we’ve been watching.

The more we learn about Affleck’s family back story — from his childhood combat training to a ridiculous occurrence at a funeral home — the more implausible and random it all begins to feel.

Making matters worse, this flashback sequence is followed by a preposterous twist at the climax that robs us of a dream “Batman v Punisher” death-match we expected between Affleck’s hero and Jon Bernthal’s brutal villain Brax. This twist feels more like a zany comedy than the action-crime-drama it claims to be. The studio should pull the posters and re-cut the trailers to tease an action comedy.

Tonal shifts aside, the film leaves us with too many pieces to the puzzle that don’t add up. For a movie all about “Everything In Its Right Place,” as the soundtrack hints, the end result doesn’t feel that way.

Thankfully, after all the preposterous twists have run their course, Act Three saves the day with a truly heartwarming finish. Kudos to an action movie with the guts to actually take on autism! This resolution sends us out of the theater with a smile, even if we scratch our heads unpacking all the logic questions on the way home. Great movie? Nah. Good fun? Book it. Just don’t cook the books.

2-and-half-stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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