It's hard not to see similarities between The Accountant and some prior films featuring its star's best bud, Matt Damon. Fourteen years after Damon first launched Jason Bourne, Ben Affleck trots out his own taciturn anti-hero with a neurological condition and a murky past, carrying out violent missions with robotic precision. And nineteen years after Damon starred in Good Will Hunting, Affleck also gets to play a mathematics whiz.
At best, The Accountant feels like the muddled, if generally entertaining, lead-in for a more layered and overarching film series; at worst, it’s a morass of MacGuffins. Early on, Department of Treasury crime head Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and his upstart analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) task themselves with tracking down a shadowy accountant who traverses the globe cooking books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. Their search mainly involves Medina googling Lewis Carroll and a bunch of famous mathematicians.
That’s not really what the film is about, though. Christian Wolff (Affleck), the titular number cruncher, is a high-functioning math savant on the autism spectrum, and his side gig as a forensic accountant propels the film’s plot. After Wolff is hired by the head of a cutting-edge prosthetics company (John Lithgow) to isolate the source of some lost revenue buried deep in the company’s ledgers, someone decides to tie up some loose ends, starting with Wolff and accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick).
Growing up, Wolff would assemble a facedown jigsaw puzzle, then fly into hysterics when he misplaced the final piece. He’s also an Army brat, reared by his autocrat father to hone his fighting skills for self-defense. As an adult, Wolff decompresses at night with loud music and a rolling pin across his shin, followed by a dose of Zoloft. He has an affinity for Rembrandts and Pollocks, and for sport he uses high-powered rifles to shoot cantaloupes from a mile’s distance.
The unsettling undercurrent of The Accountant is how Wolff’s autism is used to cast him first as a victim, then as a psychopathic automaton. For all the passing rhetoric of how autistic individuals need nurturing to amplify their special abilities, Wolff is ultimately an assassin and criminal bookkeeper for hire. He’s only redeemed by the fact that bad people start targeting him, too, and he becomes Cummings’s protector because, after all, who wouldn’t take a shine to Anna Kendrick?
Most of the bloody action is the stylized John Wick variety. Wolff never feels under true threat—all his demons are internal. That said, Affleck’s mostly muted performance does crack enough to permit some needed moments of deadpan levity. There are also a couple of admittedly nifty twists designed to approximate narrative complexity, although they’ll leave you with more questions than answers. The Accountant certainly isn’t by the numbers, but it’s still a pretty familiar formula.