Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"THE ACCOUNTANT" (2016) Review

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"THE ACCOUNTANT" (2016) Review

I have seen some unusual crime dramas in my life. Most of these films or television programs usually revolved around odd narrative structures, characters in unusual situations or characters with eccentric ticks. And I have also seen the occasional film about autistic characters. But for the likes of me, I cannot recall seeing a crime drama of any form in which the main character is autistic . . . until I saw the recent film, "THE ACCOUNTANT"

Written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O'Connor, "THE ACCOUNTANT" told the story of Christian Wolff, a mental calculator who works as a forensic accountant at ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield, Illinois. Christian also tracks insider financial deceptions for numerous criminal enterprises. His services are brokered to him by a "Voice on his phone", from a restricted number. Christian had been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism and offered an opportunity to live at Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. However, his Army officer father thought otherwise and decided Christian learn to overcome his autism via extensive training in martial arts and sharpshooting. This decision drove Christian's mother to leave his family, which included a younger brother. 

The story begins with "The Voice" giving Christian a new assignment - auditing state-of-the-art robotics corporation Living Robotics, whose in-house accountant, Dana Cummings, has found suspicious financial discrepancies. The company's CEO and his sister, Lamar Blackburn, and his sister, associate Rita Blackburn, willingly cooperate with Christian's investigation; but CFO Ed Chilton dismisses Dana's findings as a mistake. When Christian - with minor help from Dana - eventually discover the embezzlement of $61 million dollars from the company, a hitman named Braxton forces the diabetic Chilton to self-administer a fatal insulin overdose by threatening to kill both him and his wife brutally in the manner of a home invasion. The Blackburns later surmises that Chilton was the embezzler and close the investigation, leaving Christian distraught as he has not completed his study. However, the embezzler decides that both Christian and Dana still poses a major threat and instructs Braxton and his men to kill the pair. At the same time, Christian's past activities have attracted the attention of Raymond King, the director of FinCEN in the Treasury Department, who recruits a young data analyst named Marybeth Medina into helping him identify and arrest Christian. He does this via blackmail by threatening to expose her undeclared criminal past if she refuses. 

Judging from the above mentioned plot, one would surmise that "THE ACCOUNTANT" has a complicated plot. I would not say that. I would not label Dubuque's screenplay as simplistic or unoriginal. But I must admit that the embezzlement plot was not exactly a brain teaser for me. It did not take me very long to figure out the identity of the embezzler and Braxton's client. More importantly, Christian's final encounter with the embezzler ended on a . . . well, anti-climatic note for me. Let me rephrase this. That final encounter started out rather exciting, due to Christian's fights with Braxton and his men, who found themselves serving as the embezzler's bodyguard. But the manner in which that entire action scene ended struck me as anti-climatic and rather disappointing.

Despite its ending, I must admit that I found most of "THE ACCOUNTANT" rather enjoyable. The creme of the movie proved to be its deep exploration of the Christian Wolff character struck me as very interesting - especially the flashbacks featuring his childhood and the tragic circumstances that led to his father's death. The story delved into his problems with overcoming his autism, his father's refusal to consent professional counseling for his, and his struggles to interact with others. The movie also explored Christian's few successes in forming relationships with a small handful of people that include his younger brother; the mute daughter of the Harbor Neuroscience Institute's director named Justine; an accountant he had met during a brief stint in prison named Francis Silverberg; an Illinois farm couple that allowed him to practice his sharpshooting on his property; and Dana Cummings. I was also taken by surprised by Christian's connection to FinCEN Agent King and the latter's reason for coercing Agent Medina to investigate the case. Perhaps this is why "THE ACCOUNTANT" worked better as a character study/crime drama . . . without the mystery of the embezzler's identity attached to it.

"THE ACCOUNTANT" featured some solid performances from the supporting cast that included John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Jeffrey Tambor, Andy Umberger, Alison Wright, Robert C. Treveiler, Ron Prather and Susan Williams. But I especially enjoyed Jon Bernthal's performance as the ruthless, yet sardonic hit man, Braxton. I also enjoyed Cynthia Addai-Robinson's portrayal as the blackmailed Agent Marybeth Medina, whose fear of being exposed gradually crumbled away due to a desire to pursue justice. J.K. Simmons gave an interesting performance as Agent Ray King, whose ruthless pursuit of Christian proved to be unusually emotional. Anna Kendrick gave a rather charming performance as accountant Dana Cummings, whose original response to Christian seemed to be one of bewilderment. As the two become close, both Kendrick and Ben Affleck developed a charming, sibling-like chemistry on-screen. 

Speaking of Affleck, I thought he gave one of the most interesting performances of his career, so far. I realize that many critics and moviegoers tend to overlook Affleck's acting skills - something that I never understood - but I thought he really knocked it out of the ballpark portraying a character who was not only a highly skilled ex-military type, but also someone who is both a mental calculator and is autistic. Hollywood has featured a lead who is autistic (1988's "RAIN MAN") and even a young autistic boy who had witnessed a murder (1998's "MERCURY RISING"). But a leading man in an action film? The character of Christian Wolff and Ben Affleck's performance was something quite new to me. 

Yes, I will admit that I was a little disappointed by the mystery surrounding the movie's embezzling plot. I was also a bit disappointed by how the movie's final action sequence ended. I found it a bit too anti-climatic. But I really enjoyed the rest of the movie, especially its portrayal of the main character, Christian Wolff. I thought director Gavin O'Connor handled both an interesting story created by screenwriter Bill Dubuque and an excellent cast, led by the talented Ben Affleck, in what I believe might be one of his most interesting roles.





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