I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Accountant

Bear with me here, but Christian Wolff, a.k.a. The Accountant (Ben Affleck, REINDEER GAMES) has kind of alot in common with Blade. He’s an anti-hero vigilante who works mysteriously in the underground, a good guy but scary and at odds with the law. He’s mostly a loner, but has a few trusted accomplices. He’s very aloof, not good at talking, expressing emotion, connecting. He has traumatic parental issues and a condition that he tries to keep under control with special treatments. He has a well-established operation with a secret headquarters and armory that we sort of learn about piece-by-piece as the movie goes on. He’s nomadic, setting up base in different parts of the world, always prepared to dump everything and move on if he gets burnt.

This time he knowingly breaks protocol to protect a young woman (Anna Kendrick, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) who gets mixed up in his fight, and he shocks her by giving a glimpse into his crazy world.

One pretty big difference: instead of a half man/half vampire daywalker, this guy is autistic. That’s what causes his social awkwardness. If he were to walk around in broad daylight with a sword on his back it would be understandable.

His placement on the spectrum also gives him a quality that’s opposite of Blade, and of most action heroes: he’s not cool. Not trying to be cool. Most likely does not even understand the concept of cool, or want to. He’s odd. He’s a dork. Yeah, he can fight and shoot like a motherfucker, and looks like a total pro doing it. But in between he’s not about to walk or pose in a cool way. He’s gonna kinda look down at his belly or out into space or something. And he doesn’t wear sunglasses to play it off as something else. Not his style.

I’m sure many consider THE ACCOUNTANT’s use of neurodevelopmental disorder to be exploitative, as is their right. I don’t know. I think it’s more like they’re creating a SCARFACE for autistic kids. You can infer that it gives him his incredible marksmanship, but not necessarily. His skills come from (sort of a SPOILER here?) a hard-ass military father (Robert C. Treveiler, HELLRAISER III, CHILDREN OF THE CORN II, CARRIE 2) who thought the way to deal with his sensitivities was to bang his head against them over and over until he stops crying. That’s only kind of a metaphor. Dad bluntly refuses a nice experimental treatment that Mom (Mary Kraft, MAGIC MIKE XXL) wants to try and instead brings the kid and his brother around the world training in martial arts and purposely causing them to get jumped in alleys and all kinds of crazy shit. When the martial arts teacher (Ron Yuan, RING OF FIRE I-II, BLOODFIST V, action director, fight coordinator and second unit director of BLACK DYNAMITE) feels bad about beating the shit out of these kids, dad shames him for it and makes him keep going. A backseat Pai Mei.

So the kid kinda grows up to be Batman. But he could’ve been Stephen Hawking or somebody because he’s a math supergenius. So this is an action thriller mixed with A BEAUTIFUL MIND or something like that. He uses his mathematics and accounting know-how to help a nice old couple keep their farm. He also works for giant corporations, like John Lithgow’s robotics firm that hires him to investigate some possible fraud noticed by low-level employee Anna Kendrick. So there’s a part of the movie that’s her awkwardly learning how to work with this guy, being flabbergasted by him writing numbers all over every window and wall, and the two of them discussing their findings and trying to determine what the scam is here.

That love of problem-solving carries through into the B story about a low level Treasury Department analyst named Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, COLOMBIANA) plucked out by scary Financial Crimes Enforcement director King (J.K. Simmons, JUNO) to find this mysterious accountant they’ve photographed with a bunch of different terrorists and stuff. She has a strong motivation and acquits herself well in this procedural, so I was able to root for her and be invested in what’s often the throwaway part of this type of story.

This movie also exhibits a phenomenon I’ve been enjoying alot lately called I Didn’t Know Jon Bernthal Was Gonna Be In This (IDKJBWGBIT). He shows up as the head of a scary private security firm that crosses paths with our Accountant. I like that what we see him doing first is ambiguous enough that it’s not clear if we should consider him a villain or not. Especially relative to our guy. And as he so often does, Bernthal takes a character who’s not on screen that much and makes him really exciting and intriguing. He makes the movie seem more alive every time he pops up.

(That said, it’s a much bigger role than he had in WOLF OF WALL STREET, WIND RIVER, BABY DRIVER or SICARIO. Feel the Bern.)

This is one of those stories where some of the fun is in the withholding. That’s an accounting pun, but it’s true. There’s alot of “Wait a minute, what is he doing? Why is he doing this?” that’s filled in later, a little sliver at a time. The ridiculousness might be too much if it was all given to us straight and chronological, but this way it works. There is a twist that oughta come out of nowhere that I figured out very early on, but the way things play out after the reveal is not something I could’ve seen coming, so I still got some satisfaction out of it.

The only other movie I’ve seen from this director, Gavin O’Connor, was WARRIOR, the excellent MMA drama starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. My one complaint with that was that he go the great JJ “Loco” Perry to choreograph the fights and then he shot it all shaky and far away with obscure views to the point where they probly shouldn’t have bothered to have any choreography at all, just a good sound effects guy.

For this one he has second unit director/stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, who was assistant fight choreographer for WARRIOR. He has since become a go-to Marvel guy and is one of the heroes of 2017 for the one-two punch of ATOMIC BLONDE and WOLF WARRIOR II. The action here is not even on the same planet as those, but it’s pretty well done gun battles and some fight moves – rolls and holds and stuff.

To prepare for the fights, Affleck trained in the Indonesian martial art pencak silat. In this article O’Connor says when the stunt coordinators demonstrated the style for him he’d never heard of it before. So that blows my theory that he was trying to copy THE RAID. It’s a little worrisome, actually, that he doesn’t know about THE RAID, because we as a society should’ve required that he see it after what he did in WARRIOR. But something seems to have straightened him out.

THE ACCOUNTANT is right up my alley – a high concept silly enough to almost sound like a parody, played seriously and with the precision of solid studio entertainment, but with just that extra dash of not-what-I-expected to make it feel a little artful. I’m all in for THE ACCOUNTANT 2: TRICKLE DOWN.

P.S. Also I hope cable channels play this every year on tax day

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 30th, 2017 at 11:56 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “The Accountant”

  1. (8 year old spoilers for The Walking Dead below)

    It would seem the inverse of the Bernthal Theory is also true, because The Walking Dead’s steep decline began as soon as he wasn’t in it anymore.

    I’ve been dying to see this movie since it came out. The portrayal of people with disabilities by actors who don’t have them is often kind of a tough sell for me, but mostly if it involves proesthetic makeup (like this movie Wonder that’s out now, or the microcephalic character on American Horror Story). But I’m inclined to believe you, Vern, when you say the movie and/or Affleck aren’t using autism as a gimmick or a cliche. It’s like the joke you make about a person carrying around a sword in public– which made me laugh harder than i have in awhile, by the way, so thanks for that– because, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “It’s funny because it’s true.” (And i’d be saying that even if there wasn’t a student where i work who carries around a sheathed sword on his back at all times.) You’re not mocking the person carrying around the sword, you’re riffing on the nature of the disability itself. Sounds like the movie’s heart is in the same place.

  2. “This is one of those stories where some of the fun is in the withholding. That’s an accounting pun, but it’s true.”

    This is honestly one of the funniest fucking things I’ve read in maybe 6 months, I silently laughed for a good 30 seconds (that’s a long time for me)

  3. Haha, the IDKJBWGBIT genre is small but filled with gems. Biggest laugh of this movie was when he referred to a calculator as an “adding machine.”

    I thought the action was more John Wick inspired than Raid inspired, but either way, it was super-competent and lethal R-rated mayhem, so I loved it. Definitely interested to see what Gavin O’Connor does next.

    Vern have you seen Brawl in Cell Block 99 yet? I would love to get your take on it.

  4. The Undefeated Gaul

    November 30th, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Loved this one as well, seems a perfect fit to get a fun sequel or two, but guess there’s not much chance of that happening. I agree with the BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 recommendation btw, seems like it’d be right up your alley Vern.

    Regarding Bernthal, has anyone here see PILGRIMAGE? Is that worth a watch? I like the idea of Bernthal as a mute warrior coming along on a medieval road trip, but the reviews haven’t been stellar to say the least, so am wondering about anyone else’s take on here.

  5. The Undefeated Gaul

    November 30th, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Look at that, Imdb does mention an “Untitled Accountant Sequel (announced).” Fingers crossed.

  6. I loved this one. I didn’t understand the complaints from people saying they were mocking the autistic community by saying the autism made him a good assassin. The autism made him a good accountant; his fucked up father/childhood made him a good assassin.

    I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t see that twist coming and couldn’t believe I missed it. It was awesome to be surprised by it though, since I don’t usually get caught by surprise.

  7. I kind of loved this one. The concept seems so risible, like a Lifetime Disease of the Week weepie crossed with a fifth-generation BOURNE knockoff, but somehow some magical alchemy takes place and all the elements come together in a really satisfying whole. I’ve seen it twice now and I’d be a lying-ass motherfucker if I said I didn’t get misty both times it was revealed what he’s been doing with his money and who his Female Voice On The Phone Who Warns Him About Getting Too Close was. Even the most damaged people can find a way to do good in this world, something I need to remind myself of often.

    I also really appreciated the ending, which is probably the one and only action movie climax I’ve ever seen that favors forgiveness over conflict, and yet it’s not unsatisfying at all. It feels like a resolution, a real one, to the things the movie actually cares about, not the dumb corporate coverup plot it uses to get the ball rolling.

    This movie is kind of a miracle. There is no reason at all it should be this good.

  8. I found this movie moderately entertaining when I saw it at the dollar theater. What stood out to me most was the way it riffs on/borrows *very* heavily from the second half of the Anime series DEATH NOTE: The team of orphaned autistic super sleuths lead/aided by a disembodied computer voice; said sleuths operating out of an X-Men style mansion; mysterious characters with letters for names; the Caine and Abel style brotherly conflict at the story’s core (and the non-biblical payoff); and the completion of an upside down jigsaw puzzle are all lifted directly from episodes 37-55 of the series.

    It’s odd to see someone take so much stuff from the less-loved part of a well-regarded franchise and remix it like this. I never saw any discussion of the strong similarities between Death Note and the Accountant, but I refuse to believe it’s a coincidence. The jigsaw puzzle thing was even shot the same, iirc.

    Did anyone else catch this?

    Also, sequel title pitch — The Accountant II: Death Pledge. See, cuz mortgage is Latin for death pledge. Clever, or trying too hard?

  9. As for the offensiveness of the movie, you’re all forgetting that there is a very real debate in the US about abridging the constitutional rights of neuroatypical people. The concept of an Aspie/Autistic person with a gun brings to mind the Newtown massacre for a lot of Americans and the depiction of a dude on the spectrum with hyper violent tendencies and near-superhuman capacity for inflicting violence is iffy.

    I donno about you guys, but living in a world where there is legal precedent saying that people on the spectrum (or with bipolar disorder) should have fewer rights than the general populace is waaaaaay scarier than the threat of a mass shooting. And I say that as a dude who owns no guns and has been the victim of gun violence.

    I think it’s a pretty reasonable reading of this movie to say that it plays into people’s fears/stereotypes about people on the spectrum being prone to violence (which isn’t true, they’re actually far more likely to be the victim). I wasn’t personally offended, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend you don’t see why someone might take issue with it.

  10. Oh, and I’d like to mention that JK Simmons out of nowhere brings an acting tour de force, when he’s held at gunpoint by John Accountant and confesses to being a lousy government agent…but a good dad…that’s one thing he got right…and he breaks down crying. Great stuff.

  11. Remember this ode to autism?

  12. Hans – yeah, I didn’t see any RAID influence in the action, it’s just that as soon as I read it was silat I assumed he saw THE RAID and said “get me some of that.”

    Majestyk – I think I literally cheered when I realized who the voice was. Also the way they abruptly resolved Lithgow’s character got a shocked laugh out of me.

    Tawdry – Is that an actual stereotype, that people on the spectrum are prone to violence? I definitely never heard that one before and would expect few people to get that idea from this particular character, who is way better at handling firearms than real life people of all stripes.

    For Bernthal-or-Busters I recommend his recent interview on the Nerdist podcast, which I just listened to. He doesn’t mention THE ACCOUNTANT but he seems like a great and passionate guy and has some fascinating stories about his background.

  13. The shooters at Sandy Hook, UCSB, and Virginia Tech were all on the spectrum. The stereotype of the socially awkward loner who snaps and goes on a rampage has a lot in common with the stereotyped perception of people on the spectrum.

    And not totally related but…When the discussion turns to proper gun control measures, otherwise seemingly reasonable people will suggest that mental health screening be included in such legislation. That’s fucking terrifying to me. I don’t like guns, but creating a separate class of citizenship for people who have been diagnosed with a chemical imbalance, or as non-neurotypical, or what have you, that’s so clearly evil. Or am I crazy?

    Like, if you have a domestic violence conviction within the last 5 years, screen for that. Or stalking. Or multiple restraining orders within a 10-year period. I’d even be fine with limiting handgun ownership for people who have multiple DUI’s within a certain period of time, but background checks for “mental health” that’s a terrible idea and legislating sanity has never gone well.

    Sorry to derail, carry on.

  14. I really liked this one, even if I intensely dislike the current trend of slapping a diagnosis on one of the main characters just so that they can behave the way the writers want. A trend that awful Danish TV crime THE BRIDGE had a hand in, I guess. The American trend of believing that smart people MUST have a diagnosis, is just funny. Why can’t the hero just be grumpy like Bronson or drunk like Marvin?

  15. Christian Wolf? That’s up there with Mason Storm and Lincoln Hawk

  16. I saw Daddy’s Home 2 and it reminds me that John Lithgow is one of the greatest actors of all time. Think about it. How many actors can play some of the meanest, most dispicable villains of all time and also play some of the silliest and nicest good guy characters?

  17. I remember that part of the reason I wanted to see this was because Fernando Chien worked on the action choreography and also had a role in it. He was one of the guys on The Rock’s team in Fast Five. That whole team was probably my favorite thing from that movie, so I’ve recognized him since then popping up in stuff like Warrior, Bunraku and Iron Man 3.

    Tawdry – I never would’ve made the connection to Death Note, but that’s definitely intriguing. I want to go back and check out those jigsaw puzzle moments because I don’t really remember them at this point.

    Psychic_hits – Losing Bernthal on The Walking Dead was a blow, but I recall many people were already bored out of their minds before then due to all the time spent on the farm. (I’m actually still watching that damn show.)

  18. Sternsheim, I know, right? My mother mostly knows Lithgow from 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN and one time she caught parts of that movie, where he plays Jodie Foster’s abusive husband and it blew her mind!

    He and Tom Noonan should play brothers one day. Brothers, who are super nice and loveable guys by day, but sadistic psychopaths by night.

  19. Joe– Yeah, I remember the farm season of TWD being roundly hated while it was airing too. But as a binge watch i thought it worked really well on a slow burn(thal) kind of level.

  20. Sternshein and CJ– if you like Lithgow, you HAVE to watch De Palma’s 1990 freakout Raising Cain if you haven’t seen it already. That and Buckaroo Banzi. There is seemingly nothing the man can’t do.

  21. His work in BANZAI might be the second most mega performance ever, with only Cage in VAMPIRE’S KISS topping it, but RAISING CAIN is definitely peak Lithgow. He’s basically the whole show, so he gets the chance to do pretty much everything he can do–which, as psychic_hits pointed out, is everything.

  22. John Lithgow is the unacknowledged Vincent Price of our time

  23. Re: JOE

    if you watch Death Note starting st the point when *MASSIVE SPOILER FOR A LEGIT GOOD SHOW* L dies *END SPOILERS* and is replaced by the twin brothers, you’ll see very significant structural and conceptual overlap between the two projects. The puzzle thing comes far earlier and is something L does.

  24. Slow clap for “slow burn(thal)”

  25. I just watched this last night, and it’s much better than I expected. The trailers looked ridiculous, so I’m glad they really took the Rain Man assassin concept and ran with it seriously. I guessed the end twist when I realized that the script wasn’t going to let anything go to waste. Even seemingly minor characters have some sort of back story. It was actually pretty impressive how everything tied together. I’m all for further adventures of The Accountant. Maybe he can start his own group of mercenaries known as C.P.S. (Combat. Performance. Strategy.). Hell, I’d even be up for a direct to video continuation where they recast the role. Bring on The Accountant 2 starring Charlie Sheen.

  26. No man, Sheen is too much of a scumbag to make me want to see any more from him. It’s a shame because he is in one of my favorite underrated action movies ever and both Hot Shots are great.

  27. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 3rd, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    I do count myself among the Bernthal-or-Busters so I will listen to that podcast soon, thanks for recommendation Vern. On my end, I recommend this interview AV Club did with him not too long ago (

    Jon Bernthal talks Punisher, choking Norman Reedus, and that brutal Daredevil prison fight

    Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

    ), in which he talks specifically about some of his previous roles – I especially enjoyed the stuff about WOLF OF WALL STREET. Interesting to learn how he filled in a lot of the details about that small role himself.

    Btw, I saw SWEET VIRGINIA the other night and am sad to say it’s not really worth your time. I liked the idea on paper and Bernthal himself is great as always, but there’s just NOTHING going on in that flick. Plus the guy they keep praising, this Christopher Abbott that Bernthal himself apparently loved working with… I just don’t really see it. He seemed pretty generic to me, but that may also be because the script didn’t really let him (or anyone) do much. The relationship between his and Bernthal’s character in the end consisted of 2 scenes before Bernthal finds out the truth and the shit goes down – it’s just not enough for anything to matter emotionally speaking.

    Still, Bernthal is king. As I said before, there is not a type of role I can think of that this guy cannot do.

  28. Sternshein – I was just reaching for whoever might replace Affleck in the world of direct to video. If you don’t like Sheen, try Ron Livingston or Edward Burns.

    Timmy – Christian Wolff isn’t actually his real name, but it is a real name. The Accountant (we don’t find out what his real name actually is) takes these cover names from famous mathematicians. Christian Wolff was apparently some famous German philosopher (I hadn’t heard of him until I looked him up after the movie).

  29. Christian Wulff was the German president just a few years ago. I’m pretty sure this movie is based on his life and they had to change his name for legal reasons, but they did it in the most half-assed way possible.

  30. Bernthal aside, the casting in this one really is pretty smart. Lithgow brings valuable ambiguity (and yeah, RAISING CAIN is the consummation of De Palma and Lithgow’s 20 year love affair!) to an otherwise transparent twist, and I’m not sure I’d’ve accepted that third act reveal/exposition dump, if it hadn’t been J.K. Simmons doing the dumping.

    And like Vern, I’ve already forgotten that Jeffrey Tambor is in this.

  31. Has anyone seen the Oscar-winning Ray McKinnon short, THE ACCOUNTANT, that Amazon is trying to sell me above? I’m intrigued.

  32. I saw Sweet Virginia too. Bernthal is good in it but it would need to shave at least 30 minutes of its run-time to be a good movie.

  33. Borg98 – It’s pretty good! I put it on there as a joke because of the title, but I did enjoy this short which won Walton Goggins an Oscar as producer (he’s also one of the stars).

  34. Someone once said Bernthal would make a perfect Bruce Springsteen and I cannot get it out of my mind.

  35. I really, really enjoyed this. Great cast and performances, good badassery, very novel hook. Lots of fun, a wry sense of humor, and emotionally affecting at times. The “small world” SPOILER…as far as the relationship between those two characters was groanworthily implausible, but their meet-up scene is so well stage and JB’s performance in that scene so good, that they pull it off. I’d love to see more of these. Ben Affleck’s talents are better used in this kind of fare or directing than in a string of shitty comic book movies.

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