Director: Gavin O’Connor
Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick
2 (out of 5) Globes
It’s a perfect name, “The Accountant.” This might be a Ben Affleck vehicle about a brainiac who can also take out a house full of armed baddies, but it’s as dense and confusing as the annual trip to H&R Block, minus the satisfaction that your tax woes are for another year over. Every scene and shot is meticulous, but not in a way that draws you in; it’s suffocating, like a politician trying to defend Obamacare in the 30 seconds before the buzzer. Every important element appears to be there — a story that (eventually) makes sense, some fine actors, a “John Wick”-level of head-shots — but everything’s so crammed and asphyxiating you can’t help leave wondering if the filmmakers wanted you to think this was meant to launch a franchise or what in the hell.
Even describing the basics of the plot feels like unleashing spoilers into the world. There’s the accountant himself, Affleck’s Chris Wolf, an autistic kid who grew up to be a super-nerd who does taxes for hard working folks out of a Nowhere, America strip mall. But he also crunches numbers for giant companies, like a robotics manufacturer run by John Lithgow. He’s also been known to loan his services out to the mafia and — why not? — he’s also also a killer sharpshooter who likes big guns. His shady practices have peaked the interest of both the feds (embodied by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and also some scary dudes (led by Jon Bernthal, enjoyable). There will be gunplay, dead bodies, lots of staring at computers, plus a suspiciously brief bit where Chris scampers off for “Three Days of the Condor”-style on-the-lam business with a spluttering fellow dweeb (Anna Kendrick), who is unceremoniously and prematurely abandoned, perhaps because Anna Kendrick spluttering is fun.
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How will this all tie together? How close to the ending will it get before we even know what the story is? “The Accountant” is a staunch subscriber to This Will All Make Sense in the End Syndrome, which in the right hands can be seductive. Christopher Nolan has the skill to do it well. Warner Bros. throws riches towards some of the most original and daring mainstream cinema of our times (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Nice Guys”), but it’s also in the business of ripping off their Nolan Batman pictures — dour, jam-packed affairs that were (mostly) able to live up to their ambitions while staying involving. Nolan’s is a secret recipe only he seems to own, protecting it like the KFC Colonel’s chicken. Usually you get Zack Snyder’s mangled, depressing stabs at same. Or you get “The Accountant,” a drag that matches the tenor of its star’s performance, which could best be described as a sleepy robot.
And so you get a lot of plot tangled like Christmas lights dragged out of a basement closet, enlivened by the occasional shoot-out, and the tease of fine actors, who are mostly called on to show up and spout exposition. Apparently Jeffrey Tambor is in there, but his two appearances, buried in flashbacks, are so blink-and-miss he may ultimately feel like a hallucination. Simmons gets to play a swaggering jerk (with a painful backstory monologue!), who winds up stuck with a belated “OK, here’s what’s going on” explanation that feels longer than Donald Sutherland’s epic Mr. X stretch in “JFK.” Director Gavin O’Connnor excels at movies about anguished athletes (“Miracle,” “Warrior”), but is mostly a technician here, as dispassionate as his protagonist. No movie where our hero walks around with both a Sriracha and a “Disco Sucks” tee-shirt can be said to have zero sense of humor, but it’s still a movie where someone’s forced to say “I like incongruity,” and presents scenes of Chris beating himself like an Opus Dei monk, in a room to strobe lights and deafening speed metal, with no apparent humor. Handsome budget and first-rate actors and all, it plays like a pilot that was never picked up, and rightly so.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge