In the movie The Accountant, there’s a telling exchange between a parent whose child’s been diagnosed with autism and a clinician. The parent asks, “Can our son lead a normal life?” The clinician comes back with, “Define normal.” Autism is an umbrella diagnosis rather than a specific. How it manifests itself differs widely. It can also bring with it gifts. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found children who have autism and average IQs may have math skills far superior to non-autistic children with similar IQs. It’s believed the condition allows the autistic child to reorganize their brain. Some people who would today likely be diagnosed with autism are Albert Einstein, Lewis Carroll, Isaac Newton, Amadeus Mozart, and Thomas Jefferson.
The Accountant is a quite effective thriller that plays off of this fact. Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant with a small practice in Illinois. In flashback we see him as a child at a center in New England for children with autism. While his parents discuss his case with the director and Christian’s brother waits in obvious boredom, Christian dumps out a puzzle and begins to quickly assemble it upside down. He gets to the end but finds a piece missing, which sends him into a frenzy. He has to finish the puzzle. Christian calms when another resident, a young girl, finds the piece and gives it to him. Other flashbacks show how his father, a Marine, taught both his children to be strong and fight for their place in the world.
Thirty years later, Christian is asked to do a forensic audit for a robotics firm that’s about to go public. A young bookkeeper, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), has discovered irregularities and has alerted the two people in charge of the firm (John Lithgow, Jean Smart). At the same time we see Brax (Jon Bernthal) threaten a European trader with death if he doesn’t stop shorting stocks on the company owned by Brax’s employer. Also concurrent, the head of financial crimes at the Treasury, Ray King (J.K. Simmons) calls one of his investigators in for a meeting. King starts by revealing he knows Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) lied about her background to get the job, omitting juvenile convictions. He offers her a chance expunged her history if she can track down a man King calls the Accountant. There are pictures of him consorting with drug cartel kingpins, organized crime bosses, and other criminal organizations, though none catch his face.
The plot of The Accountant flies along from the start like a jet plane doing an acrobatics routine with plenty of twists and turns. Writer Bill Dubuque only has two previous credits, including co-writing the screenplay for the Robert Downey Jr/Robert Duvall legal thriller The Judge, but with this original script he’s created a story that thrills but also humanizes and personalizes autism. Director Gavin O’Connor has worked as both a director and producer in film as well as TV. He directed Miracle in 2004, starring Kurt Russell, and Warrior with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, and he directed the pilot and executive produced “The Americans,” one of the best series currently on TV. He works the script with a firm and dexterous hand.
Affleck gives one of the better performances of his career as the withdrawn, honorable Wolff. He captures the oddities of the character without show or flair but with an interiorization of the person. Kendrick gives her own twist on awkward as she finds herself attracted to Wolff. She had some help preparing for the role. Her mother is an accountant and tutored her daughter in the financial aspect of the story.
The other cast members are effective in their roles, in particular Bernthal as the lethal Drax. The movie also has Jeffrey Tambor in a small but pivotal role as Wolff’s mentor and entre into the world of criminal accountancy.
You could think of The Accountant as Jason Bourne meets Rainman, with The Firm thrown in. Those aren’t bad movies to be compared to, but The Accountant actually stands strong on its own. In the future it could be the movie to which other films are compared.