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The Accountant

In “The Accountant,” Ben Affleck plays an autistic man who is a meticulous accountant.  When he’s called in to find some missing money for a biotech corporation led by John Lithgow, he learns something he’s not supposed to, and finds himself and the pretty girl working with him (Anna Kendrick) on somebody’s hit list.

But it’s ok, because he knows kung fu. And is a sniper. And has a camper trailer full of guns, money, and fake IDs. And by the end of the movie, a lot of nameless goons are going to be dead, and John Lithgow’s going to get what’s coming to him. (Wait, was that a spoiler? No, not really. If you can’t figure out that Lithgow’s really the bad guy within the first ten seconds he’s on screen, then you’re just not paying attention.)

“The Accountant” isn’t a very complicated movie.  It’s not bad, either, for what it is; it’s entertaining and efficient and avoids bonehead mistakes. Like a third grader at a piano recital, it plays a simple tune without screwing up, and everyone claps.  You’re not expecting Rachmaninov.

What’s interesting about it has more to do with what’s going on beyond the screen.  For instance,  interesting — and entertaining — to watch Ben Affleck struggle with this role. Affleck is one of only a handful of actors whose good looks and easy charm sometimes work against him. He crosses over from handsome to smarmy with the flash of a smile at the wrong time (“Gone Girl” makes good use of this.  Affleck is perfectly cast in that film.) In “The Accountant,” you can almost literally see him struggling not to smile — ever, for any reason — in “The Accountant.”  It must have been a bewildering experience.  Everything that has made him a movie star has to be completely suppressed in order to star in this movie. The result, is a stiff, affectless (one might even say Affleck-less, but that’s probably going too far) performance which pretty clearly shows the limits of Affleck’s range.

 

It’s also interesting the way people on the autism spectrum have lately become our new Noble Savages.  Look around; they’re popping up all over the place. But almost never are they depicted as real people; they’re always some kind of super-spiritual outsider in touch with something real about life that normal people have forgotten. Often they have superpowers of one sort or another. Black people, Native Americans, and gay people have all played this role in the past, but lately we’ve come to recognize that such portrayals, while on the surface seem flattering, are ultimately demeaning.  We apparently haven’t gotten the memo about people with developmental disabilities.  Just about every actor who wants to be taken seriously has a role like this one on their resume, from Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” to Russel Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” to Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game.” All of these films are Oscar bait; and there’s an insightful bit in the 2008 film “Tropical Thunder” about actors playing these roles.  I doubt Ben Affleck will win an Oscar for “The Accountant.”  But maybe he can consider himself a serious actor now.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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