Ben Affleck is having a year of ups and downs so far. On the one hand, he got to live out a dream by becoming one of the very few actors to play Batman on the big screen -- but on the other, the two movies in which he did so didn't exactly turn out so great. Now the actor's third film of 2016 is about to arrive in the form of Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant, and it mostly just continues the up and down trend, as it doesn't fully come together as a great film, but it most definitely is an excellent vehicle for the star.
Based on an original screenplay by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant centers on Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), an oddball guy on the outside who is hiding some tremendous secrets. Diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was a child, Christian is a math savant with incredible focus and intelligence - but rather than going the Rain Man route and heading to Vegas with these gifts, he instead uses them -- as well as training from his Army father -- to become a criminal bookkeeper who travels the world helping notorious felons uncover any issues or irregularities in their records.
Working out of his front ZZZ Accounting, the stoic-but-deadly Christian gets what seems like an ordinary call from a technology company called Living Robotics, which is about to go public but has discovered some issues in their accounts. Forced to work alongside a peppy company employee named Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), Christian is shockingly able to mow through years of files and data in a matter of hours to discover what's wrong with the numbers... but that's when things start going extremely wrong. People associated with the company and the investigation begin turning up dead thanks to the work of a mysterious hired killer named Braxton (Jon Bernthal), leading Christian and Dana to not only go on the run together, but also to figure out exactly what's happening and who is responsible.
The script for The Accountant ultimately boils down to a mix of some smart, interesting choices and dumb, confusing ones -- but it manages to strike a reasonable balance overall that lets the movie keep afloat as a fun and compelling adventure. As far as the less desirable choices go, the plot never really raises above "simple," and at times, the movie resembles Swiss cheese; there are "twists" that can be figured out an hour before they are revealed; and it carries a subplot involving two Treasury Department agents (J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who are hunting Christian that is so awkwardly fit into the structure that you occasionally forget that it's part of the movie. These are all obviously significant elements, and collectively they would be enough to sink most films -- but it honestly helps to think of The Accountant more as a hero origin story, as it's the fascinating protagonist and Ben Affleck's performance that make it all worth the ticket price.
In case you hadn't noticed, movies about action heroes on the autism spectrum aren't exactly crazy common, but the combined forces of Ben Affleck, Gavin O'Connor and Bill Dubuque have come together to create a lead in Christian Wolff who is very far from charismatic, but is fascinating, cool, and feels weirdly authentic. The movie not only gives its protagonist a great backstory -- filled in with flashbacks featuring his father (Robert C. Treveiler) instilling him with discipline and strength to overcome his neurological challenges -- but it also wonderfully peppers in unique moments that can come about because of the originality in the character. This includes regularly scheduled sensory overload sessions that help him strengthen his weaknesses; montages of number crunching that would potentially be crazy boring without such an interesting mind at the center of it; and sequences within Christian's storage locker-parked trailer, which is filled wall-to-wall with amazing riches afforded from his work (including Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, a copy of Action Comics #1, and a few priceless pieces of art).
Given tremendous character material, Ben Affleck carries The Accountant, but he partially does so because he manages to not only perfectly pull off the badass action, but also bring a surprising amount of humor to the role. It's a tightrope walk for the movie tonally, with it being very sensitive to those in the autism community, but Christian's bluntness in conversation and action often lead to some legitimately funny moments -- particularly when he's with the emotionally-opposite Dana or effortlessly and casually taking out bad guys while by-standers gawp at him. It winds up being the key final piece in the puzzle that lets the film click as a legitimate bit of entertainment.
When you take Ben Affleck's Christian Wolff out of the equation, The Accountant doesn't really amount to much, mostly sticking to boilerplate, standard action setups as some really great actors regularly pop up on the screen... but it does have something legitimately special in its hero. You do wish that the filmmakers worked to put him at the center of a better story, but that hope ultimately also extends to wanting to see that better story to be featured in a sequel.