The famous New Yorker critic Pauline Kael once said in an essay that because we seldom find great art in the movies, we must also appreciate the trash or else just give up. Roger Ebert paraphrased this passage many times when reviewing movies often scorned by the consensus, some would say as a way of justifying why he liked it. In his eyes, if a movie was well-made, harmless, trashy fun, why not celebrate it? I bring this up because “The Accountant” is great trash, and I loved it.
Yes, this is that movie where Ben Affleck plays an autistic accountant who does cover ups for the mob despite looking like he himself should be an enforcer. Yes, this is one in which a lot of guns appear. And yes, Ben does go on an ass-kicking spree while accompanied by a confused Anna Kendrick.
To its credit, director Gavin O’Connor (of the little seen but well regarded “Warrior”) treats the premise with as much seriousness as he can muster. Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic man raised by his military father to be tough since, in his words, the real world won’t be sensory friendly. Apparently, this eventually leads to Wolff cooking the books for various unsavory and dangerous figures: the mob, assassins, drug cartels, etc. He takes a job working for John Lithgow’s robotics firm and in the midst of discovering a series of discrepancies, murders begin to occur. Compounding his troubles are treasury agents, Ray King (J.K. Simmons, perfectly cast) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), closing in on his operations.
Upon closer examination, there are parts of this plot that begin to collapse and at least one moment that’s frankly confusing. But O’Connor keeps the action moving at a steady pace, aided by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey making it look a lot better than it necessarily needed to. Affleck himself uses his blankness wonderfully, alternating between steely-eyed resolve and deadpan comic relief at a moment’s notice. Kendrick has nothing much to do except act cheery and (later) horrified, but she makes the most of it as a fellow accountant roped into Wolff’s investigations.
“The Accountant” will probably not surprise you very much with its twists — save one or two unexpected castings (including a star from “The Americans”) — and removing some exposition could’ve kept it under two hours. But let’s face it, “Rain Man” probably had worse depictions of autism; for all its jokes about social awkwardness, “The Accountant” manages to wrest a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of the condition. This is great trash, and despite some unintentional laughs and long running times, it does a solid job of entertaining. You could do far worse on a Friday night.