Movie Review: “The Accountant” can’t quite balance his books

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Hollywood’s ongoing fascination with Asperger’s and other points on the autism spectrum gets filmdom into trouble with “The Accountant.”

Spinning the outward awkwardness, difficulty connecting on a human level symptoms of the condition to create a bookkeeper with computer-worthy numbers skills and utterly amoral about whose books he keeps, and how many people he kills, seems to invite protest.

Make your own joke about Ben Affleck being perfectly cast as an impassive, unemotional and somewhat stiff bookkeeper/killer, because I like the guy and have no problem with Warner Brothers grooming him as their replacement for star actor/star director Clint Eastwood. He’s not bad in the part, but the whole “avoiding eye contact” thing comes and goes, as you can see in the photo above.

Affleck plays a man who turns up in one photo after another of famous mobsters and international money launderers. He uses aliases, all of them stolen from famous dead mathematicians.

But an outgoing Treasury Dept. investigator (J.K. Simmons) wants to find this guy, figure out how he connects to all these underworld figures. He wants his quarry so badly he’s willing to blackmail a junior agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into taking up the pursuit.

And a now-motivated Agent Medina starts putting together the pieces.

As Christian Wolff (German philosopher/mathematician, 1679-1754), “The Accountant” has a legitimate suburban Chicago business. He does people’s taxes, people he is utterly incapable of responding to with any warmth. His every tactless attempt at levity has to be explained.

“I’m joking,” he deadpans.

He also takes seemingly legitimate “impossible” jobs, tidying up the books of a computerized prosthetics pioneer (John Lithgow), for instance. That’s where he meets the perky/friendly in-house accountant, Dana (Anna Kendrick). She makes him forget (sometimes) that he can’t make eye contact.

But she’s the one who found money problems at the company, problems that some folks don’t want revealed. That puts her and her new accountant buddy in jeopardy. And that’s where the guy’s fondness for guns and ruthless willingness to use them enters into the picture.

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He whispers nursery rhymes to calm himself and focus as he’s gunning down legions of bad guys who “violate his code.” He’s easily distracted, so he lives an aesthetic life, “training” away his symptoms by exercising, working and sleeping with deafening heavy metal playing on his stereo.

Affleck and the script do their best to play his illness down the middle, but as flashbacks show his father’s “tough love” approach to autism, and the film makes the case that this works, after a fashion, everybody involved starts treading on thin ice.

In any event, Wolff is an impossible character to warm up to, at least as played here.

Affleck’s need to be icy should have opened the door for the warm and witty Kendrick to steal the picture. No. Jeffrey Tambor has only a couple of scenes as our “Dark Money” accountant’s underworld mentor. Even the abrasive and biting Simmons is relegated to the background for most of the story, and Addai-Robinson is never more than a pretty plot device.

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It’s Jon Bernthal who walks away with “The Accountant,” vivid, ruthless and yet somehow “reasonable” as a mercenary hit-man brought in to clean up personnel issues at places where the books are filled with “Dark Money.”

He cannot clean up this misshapen script, though, with its need to over-explain Wolff’s demeanor, motivate every illogical plot twist and create a finale that’s more irritating than satisfying. Director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) is at a loss in trying to shape this into a lean, chilly action picture. The fights and shootouts work, some of the accounting stuff is funny, but the rest is a muddle.

Their template should have been “The Transporter”  — action, minimal motivation, odd glimpses of the illness and limit the back story. The screenwriter wrote himself into a trap, and spends way too much screen time trying to medically/psychologically justify his “hero.” Less of all that exposition might have made “The Accountant” add up to more than this mess.

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MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout

Cast:Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons,

Credits:Directed by Gavin O’Conner, script by Bill Dubuque. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:08

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