Director Gavin O’Connor’s thriller “The Accountant” almost seems like an excuse for Ben Affleck to try his hand at playing a math whiz for once. But Affleck’s Chris Wolff is a far cry from Will Hunting. Chris is a high-functioning math savant who finds solace in routine, patterns and finishing his tasks. He leads a mundane life in rural Illinois as a strip mall accountant, but of course what looks simple and quiet never is.
His unique gifts allow him a lucrative side-hustle as a forensic accountant for “some of the scariest people on the planet,” according to Ray King (J.K. Simmons), director of crime enforcement at the Department of the Treasury. But that part of his life isn’t what “The Accountant” is about. There’s no globe-trotting or cavorting with mob bosses. The film is a bit of a bait-and-switch. We think we’re diving into the antithetical world of the criminal accountant, but what the film wants to explore is where Chris came from, and how he works.
He’s from a family ruled by the authoritarian hand of his military psychologist father, who whipped his son into a super fighter for self-defense purposes. When he works, whiteboards can’t contain his meticulous methods. He accepts payment in the form of priceless pieces of fine art. He spends a portion of his nights listening to cacophonous music and battering his leg with what appears to be a rolling pin. He relaxes by shooting cantaloupes with anti-aircraft weapons.
While King and an upstart Treasury analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are hot to uncover Chris’ identity (it involves googling Lewis Carroll a lot), he takes a gig hunting for a financial leak at biomedical company Living Robotics. It’s the gig that undoes him, as he connects with accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) and runs into foes he never saw coming.
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“The Accountant” isn’t quite a twisty tale, but it revels in slow-burning reveals that range from the blatantly obvious — clearly intended to make the audience feel smart — to the inexplicable and confounding.
The film is more potboiler thriller than prestige picture, but Affleck is fun to watch playing against type. In flashbacks, we see Chris struggle with his neurological condition as a boy, and Affleck takes those tics and tantrums and turns them into grown-up quirks and tendencies. There’s often a dry humor to his deadpan and awkward interactions, and the laughs are a welcome tonic in the otherwise cold and violent film.
The cast is a great strength of “The Accountant” and includes Jeffrey Tambor as Chris’ mentor, John Lithgow as the Living Robotics founder, and Jean Smart as his sister and business partner. Kendrick’s own tendency toward the neurotic is well-channeled into her character.
Many story threads are left dangling, as if they were planning a sequel. The result is that “The Accountant” feels not quite done, a good idea that’s only half-baked.
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. 2:08. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.