Monday, January 30, 2017

GOOD KILL HUNTING: a review of "The Accountant"

Screenplay Written by Bill Dubuque
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

Deep into the irreverent, vulgar maelstrom that was Writer/Director Kevin Smith's "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001), that film's titular duo arrive in Hollywood with the goal of double-handedly ceasing production of a film based upon themselves when they end up wandering onto a set of a new motion picture starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reprising their roles in Director Gus Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting" (1997)

As Jay and Silent Bob are relegated to the back of the scene about to be filmed while serving as extras, they are witness to a moment from the upcoming sequel, improbably titled "Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season," during which working class Affleck's character is again being taunted by an unctuous college student only to be rescued by working class, math genius Damon's Will Hunting. Yet, for a moment, the tables begin to be turned as the college student begins to verbally humiliate Damon, seemingly achieving the upper hand as he utters the line, "Now, how do you like THEM apples?"  But then, Damon as Will Hunting pulls out a shotgun and blows the college student to the end of the set's back wall, after which, Affleck's character quips, "Applesauce, bitch!"

I bring about that sequence from that specific film because I am somehow wondering deeply within my heart of cinematic hearts if that is how the film "The Accountant"  happened upon its original idea. 

Honestly, dear readers, I'm joking...maybe. but that is entirely because Director Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant," a two-fisted, multi-bulleted action thriller  whose hero happens to be an autistic assassin is precisely the type of movie that I would typically beat my head against a wall for having seen it due to plotlines that are overly convoluted yet house conceptual holes so vast that the entire movie theater audience could easily link arms and walk through them simultaneously. It is a film of astounding preposterousness on so many levels that would otherwise be completely unforgivable. Yet, in the case of this particular action thriller, Lord help me, I was enormously entertained and somehow found the film's many flaws as assets as they all enhanced the lunacy upon display and to which O'Connor and his cast and crew, led by Mr. Ben Affleck himself, held complete commitment. Even with all of my criticisms, the bottom line holds true--if the film is working, then it is working, completely implausible or not. And with that in mind Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" is highly implausible fun.

Ben Affleck stars in "The Accountant" as Christian Wolff, a  high functioning autistic CPA working in small town Illinois who actually makes his living as a uncooking the books for a myriad of criminal organizations around the world. And yes, he is also an expert and military trained marksman and martial artist (don't ask). 

As Wolff is being pursued by nearly retired (isn't that always the way?) Treasury Department agent Ray King (the great J.K. Simmons) and his new partner, the blackmailed data analyst (again, don 't ask) Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Wolff also is forced to evade the rising threat of a vicious hitman (Jon Bernthal) within a story that also houses a robotics corporation CEO (John Lithgow), a plucky corporate accountant/whistleblower (the always engaging Anna Kendrick), a mob crime family, an imprisoned money launderer turned government informant (Jeffrey Tambor), the nursery rhyme "Solomon Grundy," an original Jackson Pollack painting, mounting flashbacks, unbelievable revelations and an ever extending family drama plus whatever else O'Connor decided to throw at the wall to see if it woud stick.  

Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" is a film that really needs to be seen to be believed and in a cinematic year filled end-to-end with been their-done that features, what O'Connor achieved is indeed no small feat as his film flies highly mostly through being so straight-faced while existing as something purely ridiculous. I am not trying to suggest that what O'Connor has created in some sort of tongue in cheek film or a wink-wink, all knowing guilty pleasure. I really do think that O'Connor was aiming to make a strong action thriller and to an extent he did succeed as "The Accountant" boasts clean, efficient cinematography, skillfully handled action set pieces and very well choreographed fight sequences that will indeed keep your pulse pounding.

Even the performances are stronger than they have any right to be in a film of this sort, especially J.K. Simmons, who brandishes his specialized gravitas extremely well, making him impossible to take your eyes off of each time he appears within the film. I really enjoyed Jon Bernthal's hitman character who always appears to be just this side of world weary and even bemused with his aggressive role--that it is some how his lot in life to be a merciless, military trained enforcer. Anna Kendrick is truly the stand-in for the audience as her terrific expressions and reactions to the increasingly perilous situations she finds herself within as she is protected by The Accountant fully mirrored my own expressions and reactions. 

And then, there is Ben Affleck himself, who does indeed create a most interesting character to watch emerge and unfold over the course of the film. While I am not one to even begin to suggest that he provides a pitch perfect emulation of high functioning autism or not (complete with all manner of behavioral tics, predilection for mathematical genius, and absolutely bizarre nightly self -induced sensory overload/deprivation "therapy"), he does create a figure that stands fully outside of the world of every other character within "The Accountant" while also creating the action hero/anti-hero archetype: the lone soldier, isolated from the world but armed with a specific moral code (however psychotic) that informs his role as protector and avenging angel of sorts.  

It is indeed the a conceit that is truly oddball. I mean--is the character of Christian Wolff designed to be some sort of autistic superhero? I mean--"The Accountant" does seem to function as an origin story, albeit one that includes a certain hysterical sadism and it would not surprise me if advocates for the special needs community would take offense with a film that presents autism as a mental condition which invariably leads to homicidal tendencies. But, it is all just so powerfully ridiculous that I think even the strictest advocates would laugh themselves silly. 

Gavin O'Connor's "The  Accountant" is truthfully a film that feels as if it were generated within the mind of an overactive imagination--or ore specifically, a child's over-active imagination--where the conceit of "...and then, this happens," is the order of the day. I do have to give screenwriter Bill Dubuque considerable credit for being as original as possible because he really did conceive of a story and screenplay where "...and then, this happens" functioned as a rule! 

Dear readers, "The Accountant" is practically bursting at the seams with plot, motivations and backstories as they are all shoe-horned into the film whether they make any discernible sense of not. And truthfully, by film's end, when the last bullets have been fired, you will definitely be left scratching your heads wondering just how any of all of that could have ever fit together in the first place. Additionally, "The Accountant" almost seems to be a parody of the type of film where a main character is either suffering from or afflicted with some sort of mental, psychological or psychological condition that is entirely obvious to the audience yet is NEVER mentioned within the world of the film itself--as with Director Craig Gillepsie's "Lars And The Real Girl" (2007) and definitely within Writer/Producer/Director James L. Brooks' rare misfire "Spanglish" (2004)

In "The Accountant," we are given scene after scene of characters attempting to interact with Christian Wolff, situations which are always awkward and end up people staring slack jawed at Wolff, wondering just what sort of strange eccentric they have mixed themselves up with. Now people, Christian Wolff is not non-verbal! While he is generally reticent, he speaks quite a bit actually so why not just tell people that he has high functioning autism? Because if he did so, then we couldn't have those aforementioned scenes and then, the overall running time would be shortened considerably. 

So, of course, I would not be out of line to wonder if you are all questioning just what was so wrong about "The Accountant" that somehow made everything so very much right. I guess what really struck me about the film and what exceedingly contributed to my pure enjoyment of the film was precisely the film's plot and storylines which are considerably overstuffed and seemingly exist solely to ensure that there's even a movie to watch at all. In fact, I do think the film will leave you laughing hard to yourselves as you will undoubtedly be filled with more questions than answers. 

For instance, there is Christian Wolff's upbringing to consider greatly. Without really delving into the plot, for I really think this film will play better for you by knowing as little as possible (those of you that have seen it--you know exactly of what I mean), um...why didn't Social Services arrive at any time? How could Wolff ever been allowed within the military in the first place? Why is J.K. Simmons' character so hell bent upon finding Wolff?  For the love of Pete, why does the John Lithgow character even hire Wolff at all, knowing from the jump that he is the accountant who will indeed find the missing 61 million dollars that Lithgow really does not wish to be found? I mean--why not just hire some flunky at H&R Block? It would have saved him the trouble and then some but again, the movie would be over and we can't have that, especially when we need to see Wolff mow down absolutely EVERYBODY!!

The bottom line is this: for all of its flaws, plot holes and the like, Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" was just a load of damn blasted FUN! Believe me, this film was more fun than even one minute within Director Zack Snyder's overblown and utterly joyless "Batman v. Superman:  Dawn Of Justice," and sometimes, just being fun is all you need from a film, especially one as vigorously well made as "The Accountant" happens to be. And you already know about me and sequels, prequels, reboots, re-imaginings and the like generally. With regards to "The Accountant," and I can't believe that I am about to say this, but I would easily see a new installment featuring this character over another Batman anything again. 

Yup, I said it. Preposterous, ridiculous, laugh out loud inducing but still entertaining and action packed to keep my attention riveted to the screen, Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" is more than enough in the black!!! And speaking of sequels, if I need to get Ben Affleck and Matt Damon back together on screen, how about a joint, team-up feature with The Accountant and...Jason Bourne???

Stranger films have happened...maybe I should try and see if I can get a hold of Kevin Smith.

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