REVIEWED BY: Lachlan Marks
In his book Bambi Vs. Godzilla, screenwriting legend David Mamet puts forward an argument as to why we watch so many lacklustre, big budget Hollywood films: one time we saw a really phenomenal one, and ever since then, we’ve been “chasing the dragon”. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson by now, but his concept really starts to makes sense when you frame it this way: if you have an itch and you lightly brush it with a fingertip, it only gets itchier.
If we apply that logic to the once-popular genre of the adult-focused, star-powered action/thriller, 2016 stands as one of the itchiest years on record. Strung-out audiences have handed over their cash and strapped in for unsatisfying doses of “entertainment” from likes of Jason Bourne, Criminal, The Girl On The Train and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the latter of which – let’s keep this drug metaphor pumping for a few more beats – was the cinematic equivalent of selling the naïve kid at school a bag of grass clippings.
But that was all we had. Nobody else was selling.
Then, late one afternoon in November, a familiar face appears on the lonely street corner: Ben Affleck. He’d sold us a seriously bad strain of an old favourite back in March (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) but we remember that when it came to this particular brand of poison, he’d had his hand in passing out some quality goods in the past (Gone Girl, The Town, State of Play). Give it one last shot with The Accountant? Yeah, why not – if it isn’t good, we’ll just quit cold-turkey. Promise.
And guess what? We don’t have to quit. It’s good! Not as good as that first time, of course, but that was so long ago that we can barely remember how good that was anyway. It’s just nice to feel something other than a slightly lighter wallet. We’ll take it.
In The Accountant, Affleck tackles the demanding role of a high-functioning autistic numbers-man rocking some dark secrets, rolled up in some seriously dangerous, high stakes criminal ping pong when he’s recruited to audit the books of a robotic prosthetics company.
“The American “R” rating is earned gleefully. If someone were to do the math on close-range headshots, this flick surely would go Top 5.”
This set-up is a high-risk one for the actor and filmmakers here, mainly because it brings into question the character’s believability as an oddball action hero. His defining autistic characteristic is positioned as the engine of the film, rather than just being a token element thrown in for purposes of adding some quirkiness to proceedings. And good on ‘em. Sure beats “he plays by his own rules” as the only thing that sets apart a lead character from the rest of a cast.
The Accountant succeeds because it devotes extra effort into every other aspect of the production in order support its initially hard-to-take premise. The action is frenetic, unpredictable and surprisingly more plentiful than its higher-budgeted peers. The American “R” rating is earned gleefully – if someone were to do the math on close-range headshots, this flick surely would go Top 5. Up-tempo, minimalist dialogue punches out bleak one-liners and rushed announcements of impending terror. The plot is tangible but exceptionally twisty, tying in major character development throughout, always with several layers of story cooking away underneath.
Contained within are all ingredients of a stock action thriller – a civilian love interest suddenly taken on the run, a labyrinthine corporate conspiracy, lots of zany gunplay – but The Accountant uses its unlikely hero’s shortcomings and unique moral compass to shift the obvious trajectory wherever it can, to great effect. Affleck’s Christian Wolff is a more engaging vigilante figure than his recent take on the Caped Crusader. Yep, said it.
From a screenwriting point of view, while the lack of blatant grabbing at the audience’s heartstrings is greatly appreciated, the obsession with pay offs unfortunately becomes the film’s biggest misstep. The final act rolls out more like a series of final acts, and ends up feeling like the awkward announcement of a third unexpected (and mandatory) dessert course at an otherwise very enjoyable dinner party.
Although this over-stuffing does add an element of silliness that sadly drags the film away from claiming any kind of classic status, The Accountant is something that all of its competitors this year are not: entertainment. When we line up to see Affleck’s Live By Night later this year, it won’t be with the nervous eye twitch of a long-unsated genre fan, but rather a refreshed, hopeful smile.