May 28, 2020

Popcorn: “The Accountant”

Adds Up Smartly

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


“Why would I want to see Ben Affleck do taxes?”

Thus inquired a friend’s wife when he asked if she’d like to see “The Accountant,” director Gavin O’Connor’s action-packed crime drama starring Mr. Affleck in the title role. To which I reply, “exactly.” The snazzy, left-handed glorification of the iconically dull profession, often seen as a refuge for the creatively challenged, is here entertainingly perched on its ear and pumped for all of its anomalous surprise, shock and glee.


This is an often captivating, physical and mental road trip through some rather intricate loopholes that’ll have you wondering if Humpty can ever be put together at the end, so frayed seem its plot strings. Temporarily assuaging that concern while slyly planting clues that’ll have you saying “aha” when you think back to them later, Bill Dubuque’s snazzy script makes engaging stops at a few social issues it confidently intersperses with some good old derring-do. It also manages to thread a pleasantly incongruous romantic possibility through the mounting complications.


But what really heightens the experience is a bit of tacit audience participation courtesy of your own moral compass. There’s an invisible elephant on screen continually reminding us that crime cannot pay, and so we find ourselves wavering between outright condemnation and being at barely defensible, charitable odds with the lead role. After all, not only is he a book cooker extraordinaire, but, as is viciously proven, an expert in all the violent arts of persuasion.


Gosh, we like him…we think. But how could we? All of which is an astute reminder of how our changing mores are reflected in our entertainment. We are in the age of the Gray Area. No longer is it solely between the good and bad, but more often about the lesser of two evils.


While the hands of our Brave New World’s protagonist are indeed sullied enough to cause us consternation, he’s usually been driven to it by environmental forces beyond his control. But the tie-breaker is our perception of what lies within the antihero’s soul. Unlike those malevolent forces he’ll wind up taking on before the closing credits roll, at least he’s not inherently evil. Plus, he’s usually better looking, too.


In a world increasingly motivated by a propagandist spin that we hope won’t eventually jolt the Earth off its ethical axis, Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff, C.P.A., is euphemistically the New Good. Via flashbacks smartly interjected throughout the narrative, we learn the pop psychology reason why he is like he is. Act #1, Scene #1, a special institution built amidst the bucolic surroundings that echo the good intentions within its walls. A worried mother and father listen to what a kindly, doubtlessly altruistic therapist has to say about their autistic son.


But Dad is in denial, and there the fateful die is cast. Nope, says the Army colonel…there’s nothing wrong with my son that a childhood full of boot camp can’t cure. Fast forward and we get a gander at what this combination of DNA and upbringing might produce. Suffice it to note, Christian has created quite an intriguing lifestyle for himself. In a scene that helps set the stage for the odd synergy of brain power and cataclysmic tumult to follow, his mild mannered accountant kindly shows a Ma and Pa Kent-type couple how to save their farm from the IRS.


But hey, in that flashback, wasn’t that him shooting it up and palling around with the nefarious sorts whose pictures hang on the post office bulletin board? Hmm? Slowly, methodically and quite fascinatingly, the onion is peeled. Aided by the findings of a Treasury Dept. investigation that serves as the film’s parallel-running co-plot, it occurs that our mysterious reckoner of the books lives a dual life. You decide: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Superman and Clark Kent? We get the vicarious metaphor. You, too, might have an inner superhero… or is it super-antihero?


Push comes to shove in what becomes the crucible of the story when Lamar Black (John Lithgow), a robotics magnate, hires our human calculator to sort out a discrepancy uncovered by accounting underling Dana Cummings, nicely realized by Anna Kendrick. This suggests all manner of sinister motives heretofore hidden within the cryptic entries of the company’s ledger sheets.


Although wild bursts of action featuring mind-blowing, over-the-top weaponry ensue, we are also treated to a more than equally engaging, cerebral intensity. It’s a real hoot when Affleck’s C.P.A., in a splendiferous, whirling display of spatial choreography, crunches numbers on the glass walls of the robot firm’s office. While “The Accountant’s” circuitous route is certain to tax your brain, bottom line it provides a generous refund in sheer entertainment value.

“The Accountant,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons. Running time: 128 minutes