You can be someone even if you’re the accountant. Even if you have a pocket protector and nebbish traits. And heavily trained by a military dad.
In chat, we discuss our perspectives on The Accountant. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
taiche (Chris Tai): Today’s movie… The Accountant
jennism (Jenn Ng): Starring our favorite guy from Gone Girl, Ben Affleck
taiche: Also starring Anna Kendrick
Right off the bat, I enjoyed this movie
jennism: So I recalled that when you first saw the trailer, the title was surprising to you
taiche: The story of a high-functioning autistic boy that grows up to become an accountant for a variety of notorious groups
Yes, I thought it was a terrible title for a movie. Not catchy at all. A little too straightforward perhaps.
jennism: At its core, it’s a natural story about the everyday man who seems just “everyday”, but he’s different from all of us, maybe too different, is it for good or bad?
taiche: Which in some ways is a theme of the character.
jennism: But I think that’s the charm of the movie, because it doesn’t reveal what’s actually going on
taiche: One thing I started to realize as the movie went on… we were conditioned to view a lot of the initial characters as bad guys… but they actually ended up being good guys by the conclusion.
Yes, several twisty reveals spread throughout.
jennism: Which is rather suggestive of what parents struggle with when their children are diagnosed along the autism spectrum
taiche: Yes, the emphasis was that as kids, these were not misbehaving, bad, or problem children. They were different.
jennism: All parents want their problem children not to be problem adults. So the movie starts with Christian Wolff (the main character played by Ben Affleck) as a young boy, struggling with the everyday world. His parents know something is wrong, but his father, a military dad, doesn’t want his son to be coddled with a sensory-free environment
taiche: From the beginning you could draw certain conclusions on how characters would develop… learning to fight under tutelege, the resentment toward a parent that wasn’t present, the lack of attention paid to one child to focus on another.
jennism: The father believes that repeated exposure to triggers will decrease the triggers. Of course, in the military style
taiche: It was something I taught myself at a young age… how to not get taken advantage of by others.
jennism: What @taiche is suggesting is about Christian’s younger brother, who is essentially dragged along from place to place while watching his older brother learn to fit in with the world
taiche: Still I wonder… what the perception of this movie will be among those in the mental health community
jennism: How do you think that learning how not to be taken advantage of…benefited Christian? Is he able to cope with stress appropriately? Especially with the confines of societal norms?
taiche: The movie should certainly be applauded for not demonizing these childhood mental illnesses… but through the advertising, my first sense was that his attention to detail would drive him to focus on projects that were… complicated. He would be fascinated by “uncooking the books” because of the challenge it represents, But at first glance I worried that some would draw a link between his autism and his predilection for working with smugglers/mobsters/terrorists
jennism: In one striking scene, Christian as a young child becomes overtly frustrated and starts to express when rage when he cannot finish a puzzle. Nobody in the room can understand Christian’s plight—why he’s upset and what they can do, because he lacks the ability to communicate effectively especially in moments of stress
taiche: From outward, it looks like he’s throwing a terrible tantrum.
jennism: Only the other autistic child was able to figure it out and presents him with a puzzle piece that had fallen off the side of the table, hidden behind a table leg
taiche: But the key moment, is the other girl who also has mental illness recognizing. Perhaps they bonded over that singular moment.
jennism: Is that the hope that this movie is trying to present? That people who can’t fit in can find others who don’t fit in?
taiche: I appreciated that ben affleck mentioned that he craves social interactionm but suffers from narrow focus
jennism: That’s how Christian Wolff comes to bond with Dana Cummings, played by Anna Kendrick. As they often say about Aspergers, he wants to bond socially, but just lacks the skills to do so effectively
taiche: He wants to form relationships, it’s not something terrible… but certain elements of his world also capture his focus and make it difficult to let go. Like the analysis he does for the company. He presents findings, they start covering up the tracks… and he feels despair as the work is simply not done yet.
There were surprisingly amounts of humor and levity in several scenes, which certainly help differentiate it from a darker straight action movie.
jennism: Which is quite beautifully illustrated with an anecdote from Dana, Those emotional beats helped make the movie more than just an action movie, move than a Die Hard, more than a Taken movie
taiche: Which anecdote was that?
jennism: How she went to the casino to win money at blackjack so that she can buy an expensive prom dress
taiche: Oh right, that was a fun story
jennism: That it wasn’t about actually wearing the dress, but it was an attempt to find attention from others, so that when they saw her, they could say “Wow”
taiche: I sometimes wished the movie embraced some of those moments of levity more though… they came as just inserted bits throughout. In some ways, it helped humanize the character of ben affleck a lot more.
jennism: Yet there were moments that did deteriorate into an action movie. Like the military dad requiring that his sons learn to fight
taiche: Although truth be told… acting criticisms of ben aside, he does play “emotionless disconnect” fairly well. haha
That almost seemed thrown in from another movie altogether. Even the soft lighting with the martial arts instructor
jennism: So as an audience member, we are supposed to say: oh of course, he knows how to take down five men, because he’s so precise like that because of his autism. Like a Keanu Reeves?
taiche: It reminded me of another Ben Affleck vehicle… Paycheck, where he’s a hardware engineer of sorts… who expertly trains with a bo staff in his free time. Yes, there are times when a script calls for a block of wood… and sometimes that role is then best played by a block of wood
jennism: I didn’t think that it was well-developed enough. It served more as a plot device so that we can get to see some cool action shots
taiche: Anna Kendrick almost seemed like a character from a different movie altogether, but her scenes served to stretch Ben’s personality out. There was clearly more than just a math whiz processing ledgers and killing people
Which made things interesting… I started to see him fixing financials for these underworld types not because he was sympathetic toward their attitudes or beliefs, but purely because it was a major challenge. Like doing taxes for the older couple.
jennism: Humanity in every sense of the word
taiche: He can’t help but process all the nuances of the tax code
jennism: Which is fitting for the character
taiche: And so as the movie went on… hey, he was never really a bad guy. So again… a little disjointed
jennism: Yet it’s never quite explained how he determined his moral code—what is right? what is wrong?
taiche: BTW, moral code I guess stems from what his father drove into him. The movie overall has some great moments, fun characters, and twists, but they’re not sewn together well. A patchwork quilt
jennism: What did you think of the Treasury agent plotline? The Treasury director Raymond King, played by JK Simmons and his underling Maryann Medina played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson
taiche: King and Medina seemed completely separate. In their own storyline
jennism: Yes, it served only as a contextual setup. A framework so that the audience can have the answers to the questions: WHY
taiche: But then there’s this 10 minute scene, where he basically lays out a lot of exposition
jennism: Which oddly enough for me was fascinating and didn’t drag down the storyline
taiche: I’m usually told that a movie that has to spend time explaining something like this is a failure
jennism: But it portrayed Christian Wolff as a sort of “hero”
taiche: But it didn’t drag on as I thought it would.
jennism: The emotional beats around Raymond King realizing that he needed to change his life was quite fascinating
taiche: It did suddenly flip the script… likewise, that Raymond King wasn’t just an absolute blackmailing dick interested in one final score. He wasn’t forcing Medina to win him last one trophy for his case before retirement
jennism: As were the details of Medina’s investigation. Yet, this plot point: why did Director King blackmail her into the investigation? It doesn’t make logical sense. Any agent would have wanted to do this work, right? So that he wanted Medina to be a director? And just literally force her to take on that role?
taiche: Well, I don’t know about that… it’s a lot of work going into possible dead ends. But yes, it was his convoluted way to have her follow his footsteps. Which is also reflective of the movie… a lot of convoluted ways to reach ends
jennism: Which I wonder, perhaps not intentional, not reflective of the Christian Wolff character
taiche: Certain elements could have been cut… didn’t need a lot of the time jumping, or gray motivations of several characters.
jennism: He knows what he needs to do and he does it, except when his own inner state gets out of control. And what did you think of the plot line of the robotics company?
taiche: Confusing… Again, we needed scenes of someone explaining out the whole plan… But once it was explained… my mindset was ok, that scam makes sense, but the characters involved, especially the CEO played by John Lithgow, were still confusing. He had scenes where he was driving home this motivation… he’s CHANGING PEOPLE’S LIVES FOR THE BETTER
jennism: Selfless motivations!
taiche: SPOILER ALERT: and in the next, it’s like KILL THAT GUY SO WE CAN MAKE MONEY
jennism: But at the same time, a very common cliche that we find in many movies. How might we get a good guy who is having so much trouble…to be the /*surprise/* THE BAD GUY?
taiche: Well, look out how Jon Bernthal’s character plays out… that was confusing as well
jennism: Nice contrast to the Christian Wolff character
taiche: But in hindsight, I felt a lot of these elements of the movie, while convoluted, did make for an entertaining movie… because I was focused (ha!) on figuring out all the little details
jennism: Unfortunately the motivations for Jon Bernthal’s character were just revealed through dialogue. Through expository dialogue, that is. Which wasn’t effective enough. Then there was a nice touch added by Francis Silverberg (played by Jeffrey Tambor), as an accountant who Christian meets in prison
taiche: What do you mean?
jennism: To set the stage for how The Accountant became to be
taiche: ah yes
jennism: It would have been interesting to dive into that story a bit more. How does a man who is out of touch with society make it to a successful place in the world and to do things in the world that he wants to do
taiche: not only that, but his attack on the gambino mob family was predicated on him losing another father figure
jennism: The trailer suggests a story where he meets with clients all over the world and that his knowledge would be useful for the government. A cliche story of course, but I am surprised that it didn’t go there
taiche: Now I realize that some of his directives and code probably stemmed from guidance under jeffrey tambor’s character.
jennism: Which leads to one theme that should have been strengthened: the “are you a good father?” It felt thrown in at the end for the purposes of an emotional beat. They often ask: so what is this movie about?
taiche: The movie probably could have used some trimming to simplify elements… it’s cramming a few too many themes, elements, characters, twists. Christian Wolff would have preferred it more lean and mean.
jennism: I can’t even describe it succinctly in one sentence: an accountant who gets too involved in one job…and trouble appears. It could have been simply a man who struggles to find his place in the world
taiche: You could almost call it a case of someone taking on a job… biting off more than they can chew, and going on the run… but that would miss so many nuances.
jennism: It’s obvious that the whole production was trying to shoot big, so they dreamed quite wide, but it looks like they couldn’t edit it down
taiche: And there is a setup for a travelogue… that this is a guy that goes from place to place… being a fixer in different ways.
jennism: A sequel, obviously
taiche: Righting wrongs… especially on the balance sheet.
jennism: So what do you think? The final verdict?
taiche: SeeETThere: 7.5 dented thermoses out of 10
jennism: SeeETThere: 7 dented thermoses out of 10
taiche: See it for an interesting character study in one’s attempt to find their niche in the world.
jennism: For the fact that despite all its flaw, it was a fun movie. Also, I don’t know how the mental health community will receive this. Yet, I appreciated that autism wasn’t portrayed as just…the other. He was just like us. He is just like us, finding a place in the world
taiche: It may be a Hollywood-ized portrayal of mental illness and the underworld… but there are moments of meaning interspersed with the competent action scenes.
jennism: So see it for an entertaining time. For a different take on the typical action genre. With some emotional beats
taiche: And See It There with anyone that worries that being nebbish prevents you from having an adventurous life.
Christian Wolff is a mathematics savant with more affinity for numbers than people. Using a small-town CPA office as a cover, he makes his living as a freelance accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With a Treasury agent hot on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As Wolff gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise.
Directors: Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Bill Dubuque
Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal