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Dan's Review: Skewered view of autism taints "The Accountant"

Oct 14, 2016 12:00AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck in The Accountant - © 2016 Warner Bros.

The Accountant (Warner Bros.)

Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow.

Written by Bill Dubuque.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:

Before delving into my review of The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck as a trained killer with autism, I thought it necessary to disclose that I have an adult son with autism. This kind of experience taints my opinion of the film, and readers should understand the filter through which I share my thoughts.

Ben Affleck plays Chris Wolff, an accountant who lives a secluded life in a small Illinois town where he keeps an office in a strip mall. The dingy office is a front for his real profession as an international “cooker of books” and money launderer for terrorists, drug cartels and a host of other evildoers. He uses the exorbitant fees collected from these nasty groups to keep his identity secret. Chris takes on new jobs from the bad guys through a mysterious woman whose calls his phone using a computer-generated British voice. Chris takes on a new job offer from the owner of a robotics company (John Lithgow), who wants him to find $63 million missing from the books. He is assisted by Dana (Anna Kendrick), a junior accountant at the company who discovered the missing cash on the books. As Chris gets closer to the truth behind the missing money, people begin to turn up dead, and he realizes his life and Dana’s are in danger. The folks responsible for the deaths are gang led by a ruthless killer (Jon Bernthal). As the story unfolds, we see flashbacks of Chris’ life; from his autism diagnosis to his mother leaving to the brutal upbringing by his father, who trains the boy and his brother Braxton to be killers. Flashing forward even more, we learn that Chris spends a little time in jail where a mob informant tells him all about the secrets of mob’s money.

Throughout the movie, A U.S. Treasury boss named Ray King (J.K. Simmons) motivates a subordinate agent named Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to track Chris down. King’s motives may not be on the level.

In the end, Chris must decide whether or not he should risk blowing his cover (or death) to save Dana and confront the killer on his trail.

The Accountant has a few redeeming qualities. The action, pace and clever spy intrigue keep the story and characters interesting. Despite these adequate espionage movie traits, I have more that a few gripes with the way autism is portrayed in The Accountant.

First, there’s Affleck. At times, he plays the part well, accurately demonstrating quirks and social challenges of autism. At any given time, however, Affleck seems to alter and adapt his behavior depending on the circumstance. For instance, it’s established early in the movie that Chris has trouble making eye contact (a common trait of autism), but several times throughout The Accountant, Affleck is able to look wistfully into Kendrick’s eyes. Autism is at the very least consistent throughout the life of those who experience it. Second, there’s the use of autism as a plot device, which makes little sense in the world of high stakes espionage, drug lords and mob bosses. Autism is a spectrum of unique traits, with varying degrees of function. The Accountant would have us believe that children with autism can be “cured” or “retrained” into remorseless killers or money launderers. This kind of idea can be baffling for families who deal with autism on a regular basis, and reflect a skewered worldview of the condition. Such families have many unique challenges, and a movie like The Accountant doesn’t do much raise autism awareness or accurately reflect reality. Also, not every person with autism is a genius, just like most of society. This seems to be a theme for movies about people with autism or Asperger’s (Rain Man, Mercury Rising, Adam, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen).

Moreover, there’s a big “reveal” at the end of The Accountant that you can see coming early in the movie, and it’s not exactly surprising. It’s a sloppy part of an otherwise intriguing story.

 

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