Ben Affleck delivers one of his better, more fastidious performances in “Warriors” director Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) as a bean-counter afflicted with autism who straightens out the books for some of the world’s worst criminals. Indeed, our hero exhibits an extraordinary sense of commitment to his clients. Spilling those beans in a plethora of flashbacks, this gripping yarn about two assassins at odds with each other qualifies as a fascinating but complex suspense thriller. This memorable character study about an individual named Christian Wolf—who painstakingly checks every statistic when crunching numbers–bristles with surprises and suspense galore. Diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome, our clean-cut, buttoned-down, but taciturn bookkeeper wields a .50 BMG Barrett M82A1M caliber rifle for sniper work and a silenced .45 ACP Kimber Custom pistol for close range. Naturally, Christian isn’t your typical Hollywood action hero. Moreover, “The Accountant” isn’t your typical actioneer with gunfire and a high body count. O’Connor and “The Judge” scenarist Bill Dubuque have cornered the market with a good gimmick, and they forge more than enough complications to challenge both their handicapped hero as well as his murderous adversaries. When the villains aren’t taking shots at him, Christian presents such an enigma to a high-ranking Treasury official that he wants to expose and arrest this wraith. He recruits a female African-American treasury agent with a sealed criminal background to find Christian or go to prison. While he doesn’t allow “The Accountant” to loiter, O’Connor has integrated autism seamlessly into the action with greater depth and sincerity than a film of this caliber usually does. Mind you, “The Accountant” isn’t “Rain Man” with a rifle. O’Connor and Dubuque have combined an action-thriller with an autistic character in such a sophisticated and clever way that one doesn’t undermine the other. If “The Accountant” is successful enough to generate a sequel, Hollywood screenwriters will undoubtedly single out other diseases and create similar characters. At times, Christian Wolff reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” character with his crisp, curt comments. The bullet-riddled ending contains such a moment that made everybody in the theater snicker—not in derision—but relief as the main villain got his comeuppance.
For the record, while researching “The Accountant,” I discovered that director Gavin O’Connor and Ben Affleck were conscientious enough to scrutinize the form of autism that the protagonist has. O’Connor told USA Today, “But I took great sensitivity making sure the script was bulletproof so that the audience would understand what’s motivating the violence. To me, in telling the story, the violence had nothing to do with Asperger’s syndrome.” Indeed, the filmmakers have done an exemplary job of polishing “The Accountant” into a believable but exciting epic. The first time that we see Christian, he is a youngster working on a huge jigsaw puzzle with the picture portion face-down on a glass coffee table. Everything is going well for the industrious lad until he cannot find the final piece. At this point, Christian becomes hysterical until another autism patient picks the puzzle piece off the carpet and hands it to him. This motivational character trait is built up during the action. Christian hates to leave anything half-done, and he will go to seemingly impossible lengths to nail down a project. The main plot concerns a sinister company, Living Robotics, which manufactures prosthetics and wrestles with military contracts, that wants Christian to scour their books for a huge error that an in-company accountant, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick of the “Pitch Perfect” movies), stumbled onto during her scrutiny. Robotics owner Lamar Black (John Lithgow of “Buckaroo Banzai”) hires Christian to find the error. Meantime, to keep his company from becoming smeared with bad publicity, Black hires a competing assassin, Brax (Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”), to ice anybody connected with the error. Brax’s inevitable target is the vulnerable Dana, but Brax’s henchmen encounter somebody that they never suspected—Christian. With his knowledge of business practices, Christian has figured out what Black is doing, but he cannot save everybody from death. Brax convinces one of Black’s corporate executives to commit suicide and accept blame for the snafu. Eventually, it is only a matter of time before Brax and Christian start swapping lead. When “The Accountant” is following neither Christian around nor Treasury agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson of “Colombiana”) in her search for Christian, the action concerns the brash Brax who displays no qualms about either intimidating or murdering people. When Brax learns about the accountant, he is appropriately contemptuous. Meantime, Marybeth and her abrasive superior, Agent Ray King (Oscar winner J.K. Simmons of “Whiplash”), are closing in on Christian. Nevertheless, Christian manages to stay a step or two ahead of them.
When O’Conner isn’t staging several suspenseful showdowns between the competing assassins, “The Accountant” aims to take the stigma out of autism and educate audiences about the affliction in a way that doesn’t mar the film’s momentum. Ironically, the flawed Affleck hero shares something in common with the mutants in the Marvel “X-Man” franchise because Christian’s affliction makes him special. Early on, Christian’s parents take him to visit a specialist, and the clinic reminded me of Professor Xavier’s School in the “X-Men” franchise. Mind you, “The Accountant” isn’t the first film to embrace autism as subject matter woven into its story line. Ultimately, “The Accountant” resembles the Asian actioneer “Chocolate” (2008) about an autistic girl who deployed her martial arts skills to clear up her mother’s debts. The most widespread comparison with another movie that critics have made is based on the similarity of behavior between Christian Wolff’s elusive character and the Kevin Spacey character Keyser Soze in the classic suspense melodrama “The Usual Suspects.” The filmmakers steer clear of romantic encounters between Christian and Dana, but their relationship is often amusing, particularly when he sends her a huge painting of the poker-playing canines. Altogether, after you add up the numbers, and “The Accountant” is worth watching more than once.