The Blacklist is a mystifying entity. It is essentially a listing of the “best” unproduced screenplays, and, much of the time, when one finds itself transformed into a movie it becomes clear that there were reasons that they had previously been left unmade. The Accountant has escaped onto the silver screen after five years languishing in obscurity, and it can be summarised in one word: bizarre. Or three, spoken by Jon Lithgow in the script itself: “WHAT IS THIS?!”
“Black” accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is investigating a discrepancy at prosthetic limb company Living Robotics when several members of its board turn up dead and they attempt to murder whistleblower Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates). They go on the run, pursued by the killer leading the operation to take him down (Jon Bernthal, TV’s Daredevil) and Treasury Department agents Ray King (J.K. Simmons, Zootopia) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Arrow).
The autistic savant has been a staple of storytelling for years, although in modern times scripts try not to specifically diagnose the characters as a way of being able to exploit a condition without being liable for it — the basis of The Big Bang Theory’s success. The Accountant tries to keep Wolff shadowy for a long time, and by the point he explicitly states that he has high-functioning autism the film has attributed his murderous abilities to his father’s criminally unorthodox parenting regime. Affleck has a charmless charm about him but as with so many other elements of The Accountant, the very character of Wolff is constantly in danger of collapse.
The Accountant is an incredibly ambitious project that tries to hit more tones than almost any other movie. There’s very little in the way of forensic accounting, and the mystery is solved through a literal process of elimination rather than actual detective work. There are so many different plot threads, including an entirely unnecessary blackmail set-up in the Treasury department, and none of them weave together. The fact that so little of it works is admittedly part of The Accountants’ capacity for intrigue. It has a strong cast that has little to do, and Bernthal is always magnetic.
The script, by Bill Dubuque (The Judge), has either been cut viciously to excise scenes, or it’s just deliberately obfuscatory. Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got A Gun) directs with a degree of bemusement that matches the audience’s; it’s a case of always chasing the spark, but it’s so subjective that you can’t be blamed if it’s invisible to you.
Neither conventionally well-made nor avant-garde enough, The Accountant is caught in a limbo where it lacks the appeal to satisfy either general or niche audiences. The Accountant is both like every other movie and nothing else all at once, generically unique. It’s hard to recommend, because there’s a fine line between intrigue and boredom. Though there’s a chance that bafflement can turn to enjoyment, it may be safer to stay at home.
The Accountant opened in Australian cinemas on November 3, 2016.
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson and John Lithgow.