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The Accountant

Year: 2016
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Writer: Bill Dubuque
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, JK Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor

You have to hand it to Ben Affleck. He's often talked about his love for the kind of movies Hollywood used to make, and as both a director and actor he's put his money where his mouth is with projects like Argo, Gone Girl, The Accountant and the forthcoming Live By Night in between cashing cheques from comic book companies.

It's a shame then what a letdown The Accountant is, because it really is a throwback to the adult thrillers directors like Brian De Palma and Francis Ford Coppola made their names with. While it has the premise of one of those paranoid 1970s dramas, it doesn't have anything else going for it.

The first element missing is a coherent tone. It might be because of Affleck's role as the hero, autistic accountant and merciless killer (seriously) Christian Wolff. Affleck plays Wolff the way Hollywood imagines autism-spectrum people to be (ie one-note), and the film has a similar lack of colour or gravity to his constantly dead eyes, monotone and total lack of nuance.

The lack of any depth in the character might also explain how confusingly he fits into his own story. He's apparently a suburban accountant who keeps a low profile helping farmers get better tax returns because he's also cooked the books of some of the world's most dangerous criminals.

On top of that he's a highly skilled fighter and killer, apparently because his divorced father gave he and his brother the best possible combat training as they were growing up, and now he needs it to protect himself in case things go south because of his dangerous clientele... I think. It certainly seems that way because of the oft-trod trope of having bags of cash and passports ready to go, which he keeps in a caravan in a self-storage place.

But all those disconnected details come before they even start to muddy up the story itself. Christian takes a job as a contract forensic accountant for a large robotics company who wants to reveal financial impropriety in their ranks – again to keep a low profile... I think.

It puts him in the orbit of a young, pretty accounts clerk (Anna Kendrick) with whom he shares an unexpectedly human connection. Unexpected to him, that is – Kendrick might as well be wearing a T-shirt that reads 'love interest designed to humanise hero'.

From there, the entire mess goes down a narrative rabbit hole it never finds its way back out of. The CEO and founder of the robotics company (John Lithgow) might know more than he lets on. A gruff senator (JK Simmons) assigns a treasury agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to bring Christian down, all the while harbouring a mysterious connection to his quarry.

There's also an assassin stalking victims who've been in contact with jobs Christian has worked on (Jon Bernthal), a father figure (Jeffrey Tambor) Christian spent time in jail with who apparently taught him everything he knew but which never explains why Christian was in jail to begin with, and what seems to be a computer-generated voice on the phone representing Christian's handler – a woman who knows all his secrets and provides him with intelligence and espionage advice.

The problem with all those characters and subplots is that every one of them culminates in an Earth–shattering twist. As well as simply containing far too many plot contrivances that explain how everyone's connected, the story that led you to them never made much sense to begin with. It starts off a mess and only gets worse as it tries to unfold.

A good actor in almost any project, Affleck doesn't have to do anything here as the emotionless genius-savant. Kendrick is badly miscast, an eternally perky teenager who feels like she should be singing acapella instead of running around with grown-ups dodging assassins. And the rest of the cast – including some of the best elder statesmen actors working today – all do the best they can with the script they're given.

The pace seems more plodding than it probably is because of how lost you'll be trying to keep the various plot threads together, and it's punctuated by bursts of shocking violence that also seems at odds with the toneless aesthetic. A good writer, director and actor, Affleck's forthcoming Batman film won't have to work too hard to top this.

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