Speaking in a very general sense, there are two sets of rules in the world: the written rules and the unwritten ones. Written rules come in the shape of laws, Biblical teachings, anything you can pin down somewhere. Unwritten rules can be more complex, especially if you’re autistic. Not understanding unwritten rules, social cues, and unspoken understandings is an easy way to get in trouble. That’s the predicament of the main character in The Accountant, who is a highly skilled operative working for a criminal organization that also struggles to socialize in any capacity. And you better watch it soon, because it’s leaving HBO Max on July 26, 2022.
Because of their social struggles, autistic individuals can occasionally be perceived as rude or dangerous. In truth, autism can help and hurt people with the condition, often at the same time. That’s the fine line the titular character walks in Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant.
The accountant in question is Christian Woolf (Ben Affleck), who is high-functioning enough to hold down a job but struggles with socializing. He’s a whiz-bang at helping some farmers find the perfect deduction to save their farm but cuts them short when they offer to take him fishing. They eventually agree to let him fire some rounds on the farm, but it’s hard to perceive what he’s thinking.
What’s inside is patterns, lots and lots of patterns. While Chris holds down a day job as a short-lipped accountant, it’s mostly just his front for his work as ... an accountant ... for international criminal organizations. He holds all of their patterns inside, coming around when they suspect somebody is skimming profits. He finds what’s wrong and helps them correct their ledgers.
Chris keeps a low profile, but not low enough for Ray King (J.K. Simmons), the director of the U.S Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. He brings in Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a young agent with a troubled past to identify this mysterious accountant in the background of mob pictures around the world.
Sensing the heat, Chris and his unseen handler decide to take a job above-board. This lands them in Chicago at a growing robotics company called Living Robotics, where CEO Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) is excited to bring his advanced prosthetics to the masses. But in-house accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has spotted some errors, so Chris has been called in to find the discrepancies.
Chris undergoes most of his tasks without outward emotion while flashbacks show how a challenging childhood led him to withdraw. His military father (Robert C. Treveiler) rejected the idea of any help for his young son when he struggled with stimming and human touch, forgoing therapy for rigorous training with martial arts experts around the world. With his brother Braxton, Chris learned to become a killing machine.
But Chris did not want to be a killing machine. He wanted to look at numbers all day. And when he ended up in prison with a mafia bookkeeper (Jeffrey Tambor), he figured out a way how. A third storyline follows a charming assassin (Jon Bernthal) who seems to be following Christian’s path with a group of thugs, killing his way through his past clients.
At times, these narratives can feel confusing, but through The Accountant’s two hours, things work themselves out. Puzzles are an important motif throughout the movie. A young Chris solves one up upside down, with the art facing the table, and characters being regularly asked if they like puzzles. This is a clue. The plot also itself is a kind of puzzle, with crucial information being hidden until the very end.
O’Connor and Affleck have become regular collaborators, also working together on The Way Back. While The Accountant doesn’t do much in terms of visuals and pulls back on the few visually interesting shots, it functions smoothly, especially in fight scenes. While Bernthal is charming enough to steal his scenes, this is clearly Affleck’s movie, and the scenes without him suffer.
The Accountant builds into something of an autistic superhero story. Here is an autistic killer who can eliminate people without a second thought, but he also grows to recognize kindness in others. He realizes that some things are worth breaking patterns for. But at the end of the day, he really would prefer a life surrounded by numbers — the one scene in which he actually gets to do just that is filmed like a romantic montage.
Much of the action in The Accountant focuses on Pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art form that Affleck learned for the movie. While this does kick ass, it’s not the main attraction. It’s Affleck’s performance itself, showcasing both the lows and highs of seeing the world differently, that make The Accountant a truly unique viewing experience that’s worth your time.
The Accountant leaves HBO Max on July 26, 2022.