Making a Cinephile: Exceptional Acting Elevates ‘The Accountant’ to a Watchable Thriller
The career of Ben Affleck has evolved far greater than those of most other actors today; if one were to think of his life as a film role, his character arc would be significantly sizable. He made his first mark in cinema with a screenwriting Oscar for “Good Will Hunting”, also co-starring in it along with lifelong friend Matt Damon, with whom he shared the award. For the next decade, Affleck focused on acting, and, although decent in his craft, one could not help but realize that he was not utilizing the best of his talents within this industry. Eventually, he discovered his greatest talent, emerging again in film as a creative force to be reckoned with, this time as a director. He finally found his voice again, making critically and commercially successful gems like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Now, his success as a filmmaker seems to be rubbing off on his process as an actor. In “The Accountant”, Affleck displays range and depth in his performance, the likes of which have not been seen onscreen in his career until now.
Before I present my review of the film, I must break the literary fourth-wall, so to speak. As a critic, I owe it to the filmmakers to diffuse all ego and bias, observe each film objectively, and analyze them through a filmmaker’s lens, from the perspective of every major player: the actor(s), the director, the producers, the screenwriter, and the crew. Considering how incredibly difficult it is to make a film, I don’t agree with the approach many other critics take, that of knee-jerk reactions and petty grievances, spurring insults and ultimately providing neither constructive nor productive contributions to the art forms of Film Criticism and Cinema. After all, we are lovers of cinema at heart, first and foremost, and therefore we owe the artists contributing to this medium analyses that are insightful, well-informed, and respectful to craft. Ben Affleck, contributing so much to this medium over the course of his career, especially deserves the respect of an objective review.
Affleck plays the titular character, whose real name is Christian. Although he suffers from a type of autism that makes it difficult for him to socialize, he forces himself to pretend to blend in with society, a discipline which his father taught him. We learn that his father also trained him, oddly enough, how to fight. Perhaps it was to ensure that he could defend himself to make up for certain mental tools he lacked to deal with the inevitable adversity he would face. Still, the script never delves into this backstory thoroughly enough to explain why the adult Christian is a seemingly indestructible killing machine. The incorporation of flashbacks might have been useful to paint a larger picture of Christian through his childhood development and experiences to the audience and give more depth to the character.
Affleck, who does not have many lines, forcing him to rely on body language and subtle facial expressions, captures the difficulty trying to assimilate when it goes against one’s mind’s inherent tendencies; he moves in a very calculating manner, he grapples with a desire to both exude and interpret proper vocal inflections to better communicate with other people. His attempts at conversation are uncomfortable to watch, as Christian displays an uneasiness around people, conveyed with a multifaceted perception by Affleck through his facial expressions, awkward wording, and unnatural-looking body movements; he exhibits the feeling of anxiety as good as anyone I have seen onscreen. Given the vagueness of the script, one can extrapolate that Affleck had to do a lot of interpretation and research without the assistance of a completely developed character, creating something entirely unique and adding his own aesthetic touch to the film.
The plot is undoubtedly unlikely and somewhat muddled, and the writing lackadaisical and uneven, but it is immensely watchable, thanks to Gavin O’Connor’s (“Warrior”) assured direction, Affleck’s layered performance, and an outstanding supporting cast including J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow. Relative newcomer Bill Duboque wrote exactly the script he wanted to write; its pacing does not necessarily require a logical plot. One can understand why Affleck’s Christian grew up to be an accountant, with his obsessive need to solve problems, unwavering attention to detail, and organized, compartmentalized nature, but it is a unclear why he doubles as an assassin. Although, one does not need to, because those details, however annoying they may be to the meticulous viewer, are irrelevant to what the film is. It never aspires to be anything greater than what it is: A solid action thriller that has an adequate enough plot to move the film along at an engaging pace so as to keep the viewer interested until the end.
What separates this film from a mere popcorn thriller are its performances and direction. It will be exciting to see both Gavin O’Connor’s evolution as a director (who has the potential to become a reliably consistent auteur if he keeps surrounding himself with great minds that nourish a collaborative effort) and the continued expansion of Affleck’s almost four-decade career as an actor. Affleck has repeatedly leapt over the hurdles throughout his career in the form of critics who have excoriated his acting abilities, proving that he has not yet reached his limits as a performer. This drive is what has brought Affleck repeated success throughout his career, and it allows him to constantly push his creative boundaries and endeavors.