Skip to main content

Why would your clients follow you? You're an accountant.

The Accountant
(2016)

(SPOILERS) A reasonably-sized hit stateside, probably because The Accountant has a flashy idea at its centre (an autistic hit man: whatever next?!), if one foolhardily flirting with insensitive territory, is reasonably well executed (from journeyman director Gavin O’Connor, at least surrendering any faux-aspiration towards serious dramatics per Pride and Glory and Warrior), and stars Batfleck, perfectly cast as a remote, impersonal, impassive number-cruncher (emotional depth has never been Ben’s metier). If that sounds like faint praise, it is, since the picture is junk, but fitfully entertaining junk.


Most of that fitfully entertaining part snaps into gear when Batfleck, as mild-mannered but socially-inverted accountant Christian Wolff, is out and about snapping necks and shooting villains more villainous than himself, equipped with firepower more fearsome than theirs (lest we forget, since he gets off scot free, he’s cooking the books for any criminal outfit that will employ him, although we’re clearly supposed to forgive, as he gives a lot of money to charity and informs the treasury department of the really bad eggs; this aspect has the whiff of a script conference note, rather than the germane behaviour of a high-functioning autistic). When O’Connor is concentrating on the action, which ups its ante further once Jon Bernthal’s assassin appears on the scene, The Accountant is a highly satisfying slayfest, especially so during Batfleck’s takedown of Bernthal’s entire squad during the finale.


It’s elsewhere that the feature frequently stumbles and crumbles amid a litter of clichés and careless plotting. Wouldn’t you know it? The legit case Christian takes to avoid treasury scrutiny (a robotics company offering limb replacements) is nothing of the sort – making Ben something of an autistic killer accountant equivalent of Jessica Fletcher – since a criminal scheme has been hatched to up the profits of the company in anticipation of a public offering. And – wouldn’t you know it? – affable John Lithgow is actually an arch-villain, given to fevered, despotic rants immediately prior to batfleck putting a bullet in his head. And – wouldn’t you also know it? – there’s a love interest (Anna Kendrick) for Christian, although even screenwriter Bill Dubuque (formerly of the mostly sloppy The Judge) isn’t quite shameless enough to go there.


For all that The Accountant is rudimentary in characterisation and plotting, it frequently lacks clarity with its villains’ scheme. Added to which, the subplot concerning JK Simmons’ treasury investigator and his protégé Marybeth Medina is strictly by-the-numbers, from her deductions (Christian’s aliases are all famous mathematicians, and will you look at those green-on-black super-sized internet articles on the subject letting us dummies know how she worked it out!), to the photos of their target (all inconveniently of the back of his head), to his recounting how Batfleck let him live one fateful day.


There are flashbacks that work well enough, however; those with Jeffrey Tambor mentoring Christian in prison are engaging because Tambor is engaging. And those of young Christian being taught to survive in a world that won’t care for him are eerily similar to those of Dexter (right down to there being a similarly psycho brother). Although, this aspect in itself is a tad dubious, since it parallels a high-functioning autistic with a high-functioning serial killer. Tellingly, Ben’s younger self (Seth Lee) delivers a rather more impressive, punchily flailing performance than Ben himself (whose height of expressiveness is a wee wince when smacking his shin bones).


I didn’t twig the twist regarding Bernthal being Batfleck’s brother before the person sitting next to me whispered it, although I did deduce the voice on the line was the grown-up daughter of the institute director who offered to help young Christian; frankly, I could have done without the bro-bonding of the final scene, although Bernthal can’t help but incrementally improve any movie he’s in.


As for how responsible The Accountant is in its depiction of autism… Well, certainly, if you expect more from Hollywood movies than you ought, you’re bound to be disappointed. The makers are careful to make inclusive comments, such as viewing those diagnosed as leading different but no lesser lives, and considering normalcy a value judgement, but there’s a persistent sense that Chris’ place on the spectrum varies according to the demands of exposition or interaction (or gags: "I have a pocket protector") in the given scene.


Some have said it’s cool that those with autism get a hero of their own… Sure, in the same way Harry Callahan’s a fine role model for budding sociopaths, I guess. The Accountant’s a picture that essentially excuses a father for turning his sons into ice-cold killers, since at least they’re socially-enabled ice-cold killers (at least they have jobs!) It’s also as unsuccessful in making accountancy appealing as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was in promoting the role of compliance officers (about the most exciting thing we learn of the trade is that when auditors scrawl notes across doors, walls and windows, they’re considerate enough to use dry-erase markers). But with an additional appreciation for Jackson Pollock, which may make it even more of a disappointment.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.