For a movie all about super smart people, The Accountant is surprisingly stupid. Casting Ben Affleck as an anti-social savant who grew up ostracized and is now a book-cooking assassin was probably the first mistake. Wrapping the entire plot around a booming company’s attempt to ironclad its shady dealings by stumping Affleck’s invincible accountant is certainly another.
Trying to figure out what kind of mix of action, thriller, mystery, and drama is best suited for this nonsense just results in a spoiled genre soup. Narrative strands hang in every direction like limp noodles, providing backstories for multiple characters and turning the whole cat and mouse game into a very silly cinematic version of a dog chasing its own tail.
A nearly retired Treasury agent (J.K. Simmons, who should have just stayed home and polished his Oscar) is trying to track down Affleck’s titular math man, who has been recently hired to make sense of some discrepancies in the financials of a robotics company that employs a suddenly endangered junior accountant (Anna Kendrick), all while a mean contract killer (Jon Bernthal) goes around terrorizing various people.
Since that’s apparently not enough, we’re also subjected to regular flashbacks of Affleck’s character as a kid, taking us through his growth from mere jigsaw puzzle master to ass-kicking martial arts master. Sure beats just being a math master! Of course, what Affleck is not a master of is acting.
His performance here is further proof of that, basically serving as a dismal reminder for anyone who had successfully cleansed their memory of his cardboard cutout Bruce Wayne/Batman in last spring’s brain-siphoning Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But perhaps Affleck’s thin thespian skills are less a detriment than the script and Gavin O’Connor’s tired direction.
After all, Simmons is a good actor and John Lithgow is usually wonderful and Anna Kendrick is capable of being suitably charming. Even Bernthal has flashed impressive chops in the past. Except none of them can rise above the pitiful space between total boredom and self-parodying embarrassment that becomes the ensemble’s norm here.
O’Connor has directed his actors very well in earlier efforts, so the collapse here is curious. The script is clearly the root of all problems with its gravely serious flashbacks and insistence that all the dots be connected no matter how clumsy the explanation or ridiculously fudged the line between the dots must be, but it’s also the only element operating with any semblance of imagination, so that should count for something. At the very least, it winks at us by making Affleck’s hero launder money at least partially through an actual laundromat, so it does cute better than it does most things.
Otherwise, it’s a mystery with clunky reveals, a thriller with no excitement, and an action flick in search of a competent set piece. It’s all more annoying than engaging, more repellent than compelling. But who knows, maybe it’s more fun than doing your taxes. To sum this up, here’s a math equation (with answer!) to make clear the movie’s worth: (Ben Affleck + bad script) × strained direction ÷ genre greediness - J.K. Simmons’ Oscar = complete crap.