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The Accountant

October 14, 2016
The Accountant

Ben Affleck plays a ridiculously rich guy, haunted by childhood trauma, and equipped with a truckload of military-grade hardware. No, it’s not time for another appearance as Batman. He’s The Accountant, financial analyst to all the biggest and baddest organizations on the planet, from drug cartels to terrorist groups. Oh, and he’s autistic too, though a rather high-functioning one.

I believe director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque had nothing but the best of intentions in mind going in. People on the autism spectrum don’t get many positive representations in the movies. Rain Man is the biggest one most people will remember, particularly since most critics and audiences prefer to slam Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in The Imitation Game as a bad gay character rather than praise it as the good high-functioning autistic character I’m convinced he was going for.

But what we get here fits the classic “exploitation film” mold, here applied to the autism spectrum. Which is not, as might be misunderstood, to say that it exploits its autistic characters. Rather, the filmmakers have identified an underserved section of the market, and seek to turn a profit by pandering to it. And like the classic blaxploitation films, the draw is more about “one of us” as the hero kicking ass on the screen for once, rather than the hero actually resembling “one of us” in a very deep way.

There are a few patches where the script switches to exposition about autism, and there it’s pretty accurate. Given the prominent puzzle image in an early flashback it wouldn’t surprise me if Dubuque cribbed the descriptions from Autism Speaks literature, and while I have my issues with that organization they at least get this level of basics right.

Affleck’s actual performance, on the other hand, is more about a lack of affect than anything else, with a few scenes that are a lot closer to the ways movies usually render psychopathy. Those are presented as the result of an abusive upbringing by a militaristic father (Robert C. Treveiler), but still they bear little resemblance to autism. To see neurodivergence represented at all is a rare thing that many people on the spectrum will jump at, but for all the “normal” behaviors and desires The Accountant depicts, it still regards people on the autism spectrum as essentially different from neurotypicals.

Once you set aside the gimmick, the rest of the story is kind of a mess. Under a series of aliases drawn from famous mathematical figures — currently “Christian Wolff” — the accountant works all manner of specialist cases. In the episode presented here, it’s more above-board than usual. An in-house accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a robotics and prosthetics company has noticed an irregularity, and the president (John Lithgow) brings Wolff in to ferret it out, most of which takes place over a montage of window-writing drawn straight from A Beautiful Mind. Meanwhile, a pair of treasury agents (J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are trying to track Wolff down. And there’s some sort of hitman (Jon Bernthal) doing his thing as well, which starts to seem somehow connected to the shady dealings at the robotics company somehow.

At a surface level it’s all very confused and poorly motivated, but it quickly becomes apparent — at least to me — that this is one of those movies where everything is secretly connected. So late-movie “revelations” like Bernthal’s actual identity feel anticlimactic since it was already clear an hour of screen time earlier. Even the “mysterious” voice on the phone Wolff uses to make all his arrangements is obvious long before Dubuque explains it with all the patronizing oohs and aahs of a birthday party magician.

But in between the lackluster story there’s lots of action. If all you’re looking for is to see those guns get put to use you’ll find plenty of that here. There’s nothing much here beyond a simple potboiler shoot-em-up flick. Which is fine for what it is, but the autism community shouldn’t feel obligated to turn out just because they so rarely get even this meaty a scrap.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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