Friday 18 November 2016

The Accountant (2016) - Movie Review

Some of my long(er)-time readers may have noticed that I am not one to shy away from certain aspects of mental disorders. Specifically, when it comes to how modern-day cinema portrays said disorders. As someone who freely admits to using movie-watching as a form of personal therapy (less risky to lash out at a piece of fiction than at an actual person), seeing films use mental conditions that I personally relate to can be a big part of that. Some films do an incredible job with them like Inside Out, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and X+Y, and some can make a complete dog’s breakfast out of it like Mommy, Love Is Now and the more recent headache of Vaxxed. Today, we have another addition to that canon, except this is something that I don’t think exists in that great a number out there in the larger cinematic world. And quite frankly, we need more films like this.

The plot: Christian (Ben Affleck) is a forensic accountant for a small practice in Illinois by day, and fixes the books for the criminal underworld by night. He has been hired by technology magnate Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) for an audit, and in-house accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) has already noticed something rotten in the paperwork. Meanwhile, Treasury investigator Raymond (J.K. Simmons) and analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are trying to track down a shadowy accountant that has been connected to some of the most notorious criminals in the world.

The cast here is really damn solid, save for one proper stick in the mud. Over the last several months, Anna Kendrick has become an actor that has completely flushed away any association with Twilight and is now synonymous with quality content. Such a shame, then, that she is as amazingly stiff and uncomfortable as she is here. There are some scenes where that performance is called for, but mostly she just feels like she went through some weird Space Jam incident and had all her talent sucked out. What makes this even weirder is that, outside of her, the cast is definitely bringing their A-game. Simmons is great as always, Jon Bernthal as hardened thug Braxton is very intimidating, Jeffrey Tambor as Christian’s mentor Francis is nicely underplayed and Lithgow just shows why the guy needs more work because he clearly deserves. And then there’s Affleck, and I continue to be confused about why everyone keeps ragging on his acting chops because, for the type of character that he’s been given, he does a fantastic job and, as I’ll get into, manages to transcend into stone-cold brilliant in record time.

The story here, honestly, isn’t that great on its own. Since it deals heavily in accountancy and finances in general, it falls into a similar pit as The Big Short from earlier this year in that a lot of the dramatic tension ends up falling into unintelligibility. Unless you have some form of training in financial matters, chances are the inner workings of the plot may fall on deaf ears. Actually, this manages to fall further than The Big Short in that regard because, for as intricate as it was, at least the important revelations and jokes were made clear enough that they would work for a mainstream audience. Here, not only are the scene connections a bit nebulous but they will occasionally enter into the realm of just plain ridiculous. The biggest offenders in that regard come around near the tail-end of the film, which I won’t completely detail for spoiler reasons, but when we get further into Raymond and Braxton’s connection to the main events, it can get more than a little soap opera.

But I’m willing to ignore that entirely in favour of what the film genuinely has going for it. Namely, one of the single best portrayals of autism that I’ve encountered in a film in far too long. Christian himself is characterised as having autism (or Autism Spectrum Disorder as it’s called now), and between Affleck as adult Christian and Seth Lee as him as a kid, this is astoundingly accurate in terms of portraying such conditions on screen. And yet, while staying relatively true to life, it never ends up reaching the point of exploitation, like they’re just parading the condition around for cheap pathos. This film understands quite a bit about autism when it comes to mannerisms and social interactions, and I say that as someone who has quite a few of those himself as someone on the spectrum.

Now, I understand that the term "autistic" has taken on a new meaning in the largely ableist Internet circles, so my next statement may sound of that same ilk. Nevertheless, there is really no other way to describe this film in its entirety than as an autistic power fantasy. Our main character is intelligent, socially awkward but not completely inept, a raging comic book geek (him taking his most precious possession, a copy of Action Comics #1, with him when he has to leave home is one of my new favourite moments of the year) and able to take down an entire room of thugs like the best of them. He’s the kind of guy to bring a belt to a knife fight and win. Honestly, I have zero issues with this. In an era where the average action film serves as a power fantasy for your common alpha-male, having a film like this cut from the same cloth but representing what is still a under-represented (and often misrepresented) segment of society is supremely commendable.

All in all, even with its narrative issues and odd bits of ridiculousness, I am in serious love with this film. With the world being as it is, where people are clawing at each other under the banner of inclusion, knowing that what is essentially a superhero film for those on the spectrum is out in cinemas feels like we’re taking a definite step in the right direction. Another notch on Ben Affleck’s belt as a criminally underrated actor, and another surprising success for writer Bill Dubuque who also wrote 2014’s The Judge.

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