Walking out of the theater, all I could think about was how much I had enjoyed watching The Accountant. It had the right amount of action, comedic relief and character depth – specifically with the film’s main character, Christian Wolff. When it came time to sit and write about what I had seen, though, I found that this great movie may have been more lacking than I had initially thought.
Looking deeper into the film, it had appropriately represented an autistic individual, had a great actor to play our main character, and had brilliantly utilized an icon to symbolize various elements of the film. Yet, there was still something off – something that didn’t fit.
The Accountant isn’t a perfect film. There are flaws within the story-lines that bring the film down. Yet, there are characters and symbols that are strong enough to raise it to a quality that makes it easy to overlook these flaws. It is these contrasting points that can leave a viewer confused about how they really feel about this film.
Christian Wolff, played by Ben Affleck, is an accountant – one of the most desired in the business. Yet, while he may seem like your run-of-the-mill number puncher, he is renowned around the world. Frequently employed by high-powered clients, he is the number one man to call in the worst of financial situations.
Early on in the film, Christian is hired by an up-and-coming prosthetic robotics company after a slight discrepancy in their numbers is discovered by their Junior Accountant Dana Cummings, played by Anna Kendrick. Over the course of one night, Christian plows through their books and ledgers from the past fifteen years, uncovering a discrepancy and a conspiracy that goes deeper than any one had ever imagined.
What makes this film different than action movies before it is that Christian suffers from high functioning autism, with a narrow focus and an uncontrollable drive to complete a task being some of the traditional symptoms. For his entire life, he was pushed to overcome his disability and be a valuable member of society. Now as an adult, he has found the strength, resilience and tools to make this possible – to overcome adversity.
The Accountant is intriguing, keeping your attention until the very end. As mentioned earlier, I walked out of the theater loving it. Yet, as the movie marinated over time, it seemed to become more flat and inconsistent with its characters and story-lines.
For starters, there is a brother that is introduced briefly at several moments within the film, who is given very little backstory and depth. Along with the brother, there is a robotic British voice that constantly interacts with Christian via phone throughout the entire film. What is random about this part of the story is that the voice also communicates with a high ranking FBI investigator.
The voice has been giving FBI Agent Ray King, played by J.K. Simmons, information that he has used to achieve his success in the bureau. Yet, while this poses itself as an intriguing piece to the puzzle, it is never explained why she does this. Viewers are left feeling as though part of the story is missing – like this piece of the puzzle does not fit.
While many of the film’s inconsistencies are given a resolution by the end, the buildup to them was lacking, and made what might have been brilliant storytelling and cinematic moves seem random – elements just thrown into a story.
The representation of a man with high-functioning autism in many respects was cliché and predictable. Yet, there were other elements of the disability that were represented more real than expected. This is still a disability that is often misunderstood in society, so it was nice to see a wide range of symptoms, behaviors and tools being utilized throughout the film.
Self-stimulation, commonly known as stimming, is one of the most common symptoms associated with autism, and it is strongly represented within the film. While common and cliché, it added to the credibility of the character and the authenticity of his condition. As a young boy, Christian Wolff taps his fingers on top of a table, and also rocks back and forth. This is seen more commonly through scenes when he is a child, yet viewers are shown that he still feels the urge and the need to do it well into adulthood. Though, that is not the only form of self-stimulation that is represented.
Before Christian begins a task, such as eating, cooking the books, or shooting, he blows on the tips of his fingers and twists his wrists. This is not only a representation of his evolved from of self-stimulation, but also gives viewers a chance to see that this could be considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). With this realization and understanding, viewers are able to see that the screenwriter, Bill Dubuque, went beyond seeing just autism, but also seeing the disorders that commonly accompany it.
To see the less cliché, viewers must look deeper into Ben Affleck’s performance. When Christian is confronted with doing something he may not like, you can see the energy and strength he is exerting through the rigid tightening of the muscles in his face and neck. He is uncomfortable, forcing himself to partake in the activity that he does not want to, or deal with a situation that is not going as it should.
It is not just the nonverbal that Ben Affleck brings to his credible performance, but also the tone of his voice for various responses. Several times within the film, Christian is placed into situations that he would find uncomfortable and hard to read. Many of the responses he gives here are different in tone than the conversations he had just been having.
In one scene, he and Dana are having lunch outside. While he would rather eat alone, Dana has joined him, and is trying to stir up conversation. His answers are short and to the point. When she realizes that her presence is not as welcomed as she had thought, she leaves, with the entire interaction ending awkwardly. Yet, sounding as if the response had been trained, he calls after her, telling her to have a good day.
There are several moments in the film where Christian’s responses sound forced and trained. Frequently, with autistic children, they do not now how to communicate with other people, or pick up on learned responses. Several autistic children need to be taught what is appropriate to say, and when to say it. This was a great example that was performed beautifully within the film.
Symbolism Through an Action
The strongest representation of symbolism within The Accountant is a Muhammad Ali puzzle that appears both at the beginning and at the end of the movie. Yet, this puzzle is not confined to symbolize only one element of the film, but several. It is with this understanding that we realize one thing can represent many – it’s just how you look at it.
The image on the puzzle is of a great icon that overcame adversity to be a champion. He “floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee.” In this film Ali represents our main character, Christian. Throughout his entire life, he has had to overcome adversity to become a champion of sorts in his own field. He is highly sought after and unbelievably successful. Yet, as kind as his heart can be to the less fortunate, his wrath on those who wrong him and others is an unstoppable force.
With puzzles, we do not have an entire picture until the final piece is placed. At the beginning of The Accountant, viewers are only allowed to see a small part of the puzzle that Christian has been building. This parallels the entire film. The movie is a puzzle, with each piece given to the viewers as it goes along, and it is not until the very end that we are able to see the full picture.
The Accountant was a good film, but it was missing pieces that would have made it a complete and cohesive story. The right ideas and elements were present, yet not everything fit together as it should have. The random scenes and characters that were decided to be relevant to the film fell flat, and will leave viewers feeling like they have missed something that was left out. With strong symbolism and character credibility, though, it is easy to overlook the mishaps and to overall enjoy The Accountant.
Have you seen The Accountant? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!
The Accountant was released in the United States on October 14, 2016 and will be released in the UK on November 4, 2016. For all international release dates, see here.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.