The Accountant (2016)

Solomon Grundy,

Born on a Monday,

Christened on Tuesday,

Married on Wednesday,

Took ill on Thursday,

Worse on Friday,

Died on Saturday,

Buried on Sunday.

This is the end

Of Solomon Grundy.

I caught The Accountant today which was listed in June as one of the top 10 most anticipated films for the  second half of 2016. I’ve also been reading around to see what reviewers have been saying about it and I’d like to address some of it and chip in on the discussion as well.

Plot and Structure in The Accountant (2016)

Yes, it moves back and forth between the present and some extended flashback sequences. The flashbacks help to reveal bits of the plot from “Christian Wolff’s” (Ben Affleck) childhood and recent past that lead up to the current moment. But, No, this is not overly confusing the way some of the reviewers have been complaining.

I did feel, however, that the film lost its own narrative train of thought in certain parts that resulted in some distracting holes in the story-telling.

So here is my list of questions that would probably make more sense to you after you’ve watched the film:

  1. What happened between Wolff and Braxton (Jon Bernthal)?
  2. What’s so special about Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) that prompts Wolff to help her?
  3. I’m still unclear on how Dana’s prom dress story relates to anything Wolff is trying to do
  4. What is it about watching Dana sleep on the couch that reminds him of the “blood first” flashback?
  5. What is this “moral code” The Accountant supposedly lives by? The film certainly gives you examples of this code in action but never actually explains what it is.
  6. And if his dad is the source of this code, what’s so moral about siccing his military combat-trained sons on a bunch of young teenage hooligans hanging out under a bridge minding their own business?
  7. Other than the one tensely shot sequence, why did Wolff’s inability to complete the BioRobotics job not affect him in a more sustained manner?

Autism in The Accountant 

There were a number of reviews that complained that the film tried to do too much by being a John Wick (2014) styled action-flick – slick action sequences, small/contained plot, with  a healthy dose of humour – while trying to push a public service announcement message about neurodiversity. Some claimed that the film failed to do this.

I actually beg to differ.

My ability to feel differently is in part, I think, from watching the film on a weekday afternoon, in an all but empty neighbourhood theatre. This means, I wasn’t swayed or influenced by audience laughter which most of the reviewers also pointed out seemed to occur at awkward moments in the film. Awkward moments that sometimes made it feel like audiences were being encouraged to laugh at Wolff’s expense.

The scene that often gets blamed for this is the awkward lunch break that Dana and Wolff share. Sitting in the dark, mostly by myself in a fairly quiet cinema, I actually found myself thinking that Affleck’s character was much less awkward than I expected him to be compared to Kendrick’s. In this scene,

  1. He neatly deflects Kendrick’s unintentionally accurate quip about how hard one has to hit a thermos in order to dent it by saying, “it’s just old” which is a surprisingly naturalistic explanation seeing as how he has been caught red-handed, sort of… I mean, I find it kind of remarkable that as an audience member I bought that explanation until it was revealed otherwise later in the film (sorry… *SPOILER*)
  2. He provides a surprisingly nuanced interpretation of the “Dogs Playing Poker” series of paintings that is actually pretty consistent with the scientific literature on Autism and art appreciation:
    • “Another distinctive trait one finds in some autistic children is a rare maturity of taste in art. Normal children have no time for more sophisticated art. Their taste is usually for the pretty picture, with kitschy rose pink and sky blue… Autistic children, on the other hand, can have a surprisingly sophisticated understanding, being able to distinguish between art and kitsch with great confidence. They may have a special understanding of works of art which are difficult even for many adults, for instance Romanesque sculpture or paintings by Rembrandt. Autistic individuals can judge accurately the events represented in the picture, as well as what lies behind them, including the character of the people represented and the mood that pervades a painting. Consider that many normal adults never reach this mature degree of art appreciation.”
      • Taken from Autism and Asperger Syndrome edited by Uta Frith, published in 1991 by Cambridge University Press
  3. All in all, the humour in the scene felt like it came more from Dana’s over-sharing than anything Wolff did or said

Instead the scenes in which I did find myself smiling at oftentimes came after moments of triumph for the character:

  1. The two times he proves his incredible military prowess to the farm couple
  2. That one time he nails John Lithgow ← This is not a spoiler. You KNEW John Lithgow was the villain the moment you saw his name on the starring list. I blame Raising Cain (1992) for this eternal impression I have of the guy…

And the scenes that dealt directly with how Wolff’s autism affected him were handled very somberly. Like the claustrophobic framing used in the scene where he sits down to eat alone (seen in the trailer), and quick cuts and lighting used to create the extreme tension in the scene where he deals with his inability to complete the BioRobotics contract.

Watching this film, unlike most reviewers who immediately sought to compare it to John Wick, I actually thought of Tropic Thunder (2008), this scene in particular:

And I suddenly realised how demeaning and presumptuous Hollywood films can be when it comes to making films about people with mental disorders, and what a fine line it is to walk to bring those stories to the screen in a respectful manner.

I guess it’s safe to say that this film made the right choice in running in the complete opposite direction of trying to imbue Wolff with any overtly lovable characteristics associated with his mental disorder for fear of looking patronising. Instead, it made a concerted effort for Wolff to appear wholly and completely normal or even super-human when he interacts with others in order to further its empowering message on neurodiversity.

At the end of the day, The Accountant was not the film I expected it to be but it wasn’t all that bad either. It had some good things to say about some important issues which it handled pretty conscientiously. It’s just unfortunate that its positive message was let down by some problematic story-telling.

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3 thoughts on “The Accountant (2016)

    1. I didn’t know Lisbeth had Asperger’s, I just thought she was a total badass. I suppose it’s also interesting to think about how humour is used with the portrayal of those with mental disorders in this case too.

      I read in one review that unlike the Fincher remake which gave the narrative an over-serious treatment to better suit American tastes, the original Swedish film had an undercurrent of dark humour that drew laughter from Swedish audiences.

      So I guess again, it’s the idea of laughing with the character rather than at them. 😉

      Like

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