The Accountant (2016)

*. From murky beginnings, the autism spectrum diagnosis really took off in the twenty-first century. Indeed, it became so common/popular that it eventually shed any sense of being a disorder and instead became a marker of special genius. Individuals “on the spectrum” were not just different, but better; not “neurotypical” but homo superior. Shakespeare, it was said, must have been on the spectrum. Einstein too. Soon celebrities were lining up to claim their place. Could it be long before the autistic became superheroes?
*. Not long at all. In The Accountant this change in the way we look at autism is absorbed into the maw of the cultural maelstrom that we might call, for lack of a better word, superheroism. Our hero Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) may seem like a (very) mild-mannered and sexy accountant but in reality he’s a highly-trained killing machine (crack shot, master of the martial arts) with advanced math skills and a penchant for fine art. Was James Bond on the spectrum too? He is now.
*. I’ll leave aside the question of the film’s presentation of autism. It’s certainly hard to call it out for presenting any negative stereotypes, though I have to wonder if the message of autism as being a special gift isn’t going a bit far in the other direction.
*. I’ll also leave aside any further discussion of The Accountant as a superhero movie. Suffice to say it checks all the boxes: giving us the essential origin story and introducing us to the supporting characters we will surely meet again in the sequels.
*. This leaves us with the movie itself. I thought it was surprisingly bad.

*. The cast isn’t bad. Affleck doesn’t have to work very hard to sell the murderer-savant, though in several scenes I thought he was starting to look disturbingly like Steven Seagal. J. K. Simmons knows the drill and performs. Anna Kendrick, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and Jon Bernthal also know the drill, but seem not to be too happy about the limitations of their characters. Kendrick in particular has the look of someone who can’t believe how little she is being called upon to do.
*. The script lets everyone down. I didn’t know what Braxton’s job description was. I didn’t understand (and really didn’t care) what kind of a bad guy John Lithgow was supposed to be. A psychopathic philanthropist?
*. Despite being vague on details like these, it was perfectly clear how everything was going to ultimately work out, and the ending of the movie just runs out of steam and treads water for the final act. I was left wondering why it was taking so long to tell such a simple story.
*. In sum, I can’t think of anything really nice to say about this one. It’s just another superhero franchise start-up. The only wrinkle is that John Wick has been bitten by a radioactive spider and is now really smart as well as deadly. The action sequences are nothing special, and the final shootout is a total yawn, with the mooks just getting blown away like metal ducks at a carnival. It seems to want to give us some kind of positive message about kids with learning disabilities or behavioural problems, but if the takeaway is that we should seek to empower such children by sending them to bootcamp and ninja school then I don’t think that’s going to prove very helpful.
*. On the other hand, surveys have found that accounting is one of the happiest professions, with accountants reporting enviable levels of job satisfaction while enjoying excellent pay and high social status. Young people who are good at numbers should be encouraged to take it up.

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