THE ACCOUNTANT – 2016 – movie
THE ACCOUNTANT – Directed by - Gavin O’Connor; The players are: Ben Affleck - Christian Wolff; Anna Kendrick - Dana Cummings; J.K. Simmons – Ray King; Jon Bernthal – Brax Wolff; Jeffrey Tambor - Francis Silverberg; Cynthia Addai-Robinson - Marybeth Medina; John Lithgow - Lamar Blackburn; Jean Smart - Rita Blackburn; Andy Umberger - Ed
This is high tension crime drama at its best!
When I watch a movie just for entertainment, I often work on another little project while the film plays in the background. However, shortly after this film started I was frozen mid-stride… the other project totally forgotten. Yup, he got me! I’m one of the anesthetized many who couldn't stop watching Gavin O’Connor’s crime thriller. Regardless of its formulaic structure and occasional glitches there’s lot to enjoy here. The script could be a model for how to maintain high interest in a multi-time- structured plot that cuts from the present to the past, to the future, and back again. If you’re watching it on a DVD you might want to pause and think about what just happened. I watched it three times and caught something new each time. Just sit back and enjoy!
Roll production credits, sound effects, traffic, men running…………roll title;
FUTURE …….. An unidentified man, gun in hand, runs across a busy downtown side street and enters a walk up building with a small restaurant on the ground floor. We hear gun shots coming from the floors above.
As he makes his way to the source of the voices he sees bodies and pools of blood soaking the hallways… there’s silence as he creeps nearer to an open door. Cut to a shadow on a cracked wall; a cocked and aimed 45 auto.
PAST….. Young Christian Wolff, who has been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism, is being observed by a psychiatrist and his parents. He rocks back and forth exhibiting his autistic affliction while putting together a puzzle.
Present also are his younger brother Braxton and the psychiatrist’s autistic daughter. Swaying to and fro, he repeatedly chants a Mother Goose nursery rhyme; ”Solomon Grundy, Born on Monday, christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Sick on Thursday, Worse on Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday, That was the end of Solomon Grundy".
PAST…. His father - ridged, professional military, disciplinarian - rejects the doctor's treatment plan and initiates his own solution. His strategy is to intensify all the stimuli that trigger his son's (Seth Lee) episodes and force
him to overcome them through the martial arts and stoic resistance to pain. His brother Brax is forced to share the same treatment. His mother, unable to confront her husband, abandons the family.
PRESENT…… Having survived his father’s brutal treatment, Chris is now a successful accountant in his forties. However, the by-product of his traumatized youth is exhibited by an acute focus on work and a zero ability to socialize with others, "even though I want to."
His highest form of emotional display in normal interaction with other people is the barest of smiles. Regardless of these limitations Affleck, with great skill and insight, manages to convey a range of feelings and emotions behind the stoic façade that Chris displays to the world.
The Accountant embraces Hollywood’s fantasy about special skills, with which those who suffer from autism are presumed to be endowed with. Only about ten percent of autistic people have savant abilities that are similar to those in Rain Man. However, this script under O’Connor’s guidance is salvaged from this misconception by the humanism he draws from his cast.
PRESENT ........ Chis, seated in his strip mall office, tucked neatly in a rural setting, is interviewing a farmer and his wife who are having tax problems. He finds ways for them list expenses and to use those as write-offs..... "You mean my truck? …….Yes, the company truck."
It’s not fast-paced editing, arm-waving oratory, or pointless violence that makes what you’re watching up there on that bright screen in that dark theater, seem real.
It’s the many small exchanges of dialogue and the sum total of all the subtle nuances of communication like those
demonstrated here between the characters in this minor scene, with the farmer and his wife.
In this movie it’s O’Connor’s directive ability, good writing, and highly skilled acting, which are the ingredients that hold viewers on the edge of their seats for one hundred and twenty eight minutes.
The farming couple offers to let him use their property to pursue his exacting hobby of target shooting. This is our first hint that Chris has a serious fascination with firearms and
target accuracy in particular; most likely it is because this skill requires the exacting parameters his autism imposes on his daily life.
One of the sure-fire keys to a successful movie is casting. The picks here couldn’t be more crucial to the believability of the story. Miss-casting can be a mine field which destroys the credibility of a film’s carefully laid plot structure. From the viewer’s perspective, adding a believable auxiliary cast clads your story with a comforting layer of trustworthiness, especially if you’re planning to stray off into improbable plot twists and violence.
The entire ensemble, including Dana Cummings, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, Jon Bernthal and Cynthia Addai-Robinson, add support to O’Connor’s story and execute their roles with their outstanding, dependable and convincing performances.
O’Connor keeps his story going with multiple time leaps; filling in the back story and keeping the action at a visceral level. He manages to do this and maintain the story line in logical progression.
PAST …... O’Connor’s plot takes one of those unexpected time leaps when Chris and his father, wearing Army uniforms and under assumed names, try to visit his mother’s funeral.
When they are denied, Chris gets into a fight. His father is killed when he steps in front of a cop and takes a bullet meant for Chris.
Chris is sent to a low-security prison where he meets Francis, a former mob accountant who is in witness protection. Chris’ ability with numbers inspires Francis to tutor him in accounting and he shares his list of contacts in the Middle East and the underworld.
PAST….. After his release his protection lifted, and Francis is tortured and killed by the mob who he was forced to betray. Chris escapes and sets about revenging his friend’s death.
PRESENT….. Chris has engaged an answering service woman to filter his phone calls and whom, it seems, doubles as a councilor and looks after his well-being. She warns him off any more mob clients and she suggests that he take a job with a nice, normal, legitimate company, Living Robotics.
Living Robotics is owned by Lamar Blackburn and his sister Rita, who is married to Ed Chilton the company’s CFO. They hire Chris to find a large amount of missing money.
The loss was discovered by a junior cost accountant, Dana. Together, they uncover a trail of embezzlement, which puts them in mortal danger.
I’m a big fan of the crime fiction plot style so I expect all the parts of the story to support each other. Remarkable as Mr. O’Connor’s directorial efforts are, there are some glitches in his script.
PAST….. Suddenly, we’re in Zurich, Switzerland and Chris’s brother Brax is inserted into the story….. this little side trip is never fully explained. He has apparently become a thug for hire and who is now threatening an unscrupulous investment banker in Zurich.
PRESENT….. U.S. Treasury Agent, Ray King, coerces an investigator, Marybeth Medina into investigating and finding the man behind several Middle Eastern based money laundering schemes.
We never know why she has to be forced into undertaking this project. Why not just give her this project and let her do her thing?
Another little hitch is that we never fully understand why Chris’ brother Brax – who is now a hit man – is trying to cover up the trail of the missing money. Who is he working for?
Autism cannot be cured in the traditional sense, however not all autistic people suffer to the same degree. With help the afflicted person can adapt and lead a relatively normal life. Chris’ comfortable, middle class existence is about to get more complicated.
PRESENT….. We discover that Chris – now in his forties - has buried his existence in a quiet suburban neighborhood and outwardly exhibits all the signs of normalcy.
When his hidden private life is revealed we see that he is still trapped by the brutality of his father’s cure. When his goals and tasks have been thwarted, he is compelled to abuse himself physically and drowns these sessions in excessively loud music and flashing, bright lights. Just what his father ordered.
PRESENT……… Chris’ & Dana’s analysis of Living Robotics has revealed that Ed (trusted, long-term friend of Lamar) has embezzled millions from Lamar’s company. It appears that Rita and Ed were planning to take the company public. Brax, for some unknown reason, re-appears and forces Ed) to OD on his insulin medication.
Totally unaware of all this, Lamar is upset because he suspects his friend has been murdered, so he terminates Chris’ project. Chris – whose autism will not release him from his obsessive behavior - is disturbed because he feels compelled to finish the task he’s been assigned.
Thugs – hired by Brax – hoping to kill Chris, take the farmer and his wife hostage. When Chris rescues them he discovers that they also plan to kill Dana.
He rushes to her address where her apartment has been invaded and she’s being threatened by a team of four men. She tries to barricade herself in the bathroom… Naturally he kills them all, and after rescuing her from the bathroom, he deadpans… “We should go.”
We find them at his storage unit where he keeps his vintage Airstream trailer. In it is his stash of weapons, cash, gold bars, credit cards, etc. and two authentic paintings (Renoir and Pollock) that he received as payment by his mob clients. He selects some weapons, cash, etc. and they leave.
FUTURE…. The tension is building; Medina and Ray are closing in on his identity – male, Caucasian, 25 to 45, earning a mil plus, and no investments.
PRESENT ...... Meanwhile, Chris is trying to track down the person who is trying to kill Dana and him. He finds that Rita has been shot.
Medina has finally found Chris’ company, ZZZ Accounting near Chicago in a rural strip mall. We learn thru Medina that he launders the fees he receives from his mob clients through his small business neighbors in the mall.
They discover that he is also donating over a million dollars yearly to Nero-Research, a company that is trying to find a cure for autism. The FBI, at Ray’s request, search Chris’ home and find his stash of weapons… his security cameras, etc.
OK... now the groundwork for our story has been anchored, let the entanglements intensify. This movie received a lot of negative criticism, which in my humble opinion often gets in the way of just plain enjoyment. O’Connor holds his multiple plotlines together with unexpected twists, multiple time jumps and dramatic brakes. Before you have a moment to reflect, you are faced with attention-getting leap. He has provided is with yet another 120 minutes of pure escapism.
This title was missing from my library’s shelf but they are able to order virtually any movie through their inter-library loan system.