There's an old episode of the original Star Trek in which McCoy is giving it to Spock pretty good, telling him how awful it must be for the superrational Vulcan to be stuck on a ship full of irrational people. Spock quizzically raises an eyebrow – a reaction of surprise, mind you, an emotion he shouldn't really have, but I digress – before telling McCoy that he's quite satisfied with his place. "Nowhere," he explains, "am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans."
Zing. Sick burn. Touché.
In The Accountant, a pulpy, peculiar and half-camp thriller that is something other than by-the-numbers, we have Ben Affleck as a bone-breaking bean-counter who is also autistic. Well, we call it autism. Director Gavin O'Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque might call it awe-tism, for Affleck's Christian Wolff is a spreadsheet savant and a butt-kicker. He's damn near indestructible and 100-per-cent undistractible as a coolly calculating combo of a forensic accountant for the unlawful and a supersniper with high-grade ammunition and low-grade social skills.
The victory of The Accountant is in the tone. The title character isn't presented as a superfreak – this isn't Rain Man, in which autistic gifts are presented as powers for parlour tricks – but as a prototype and a beautiful mutant, maybe even a superhero. As for Affleck, he plays the role less like Jason Bourne and more like the dry-humoured Terminator. And where Dustin Hoffman's autistic Raymond is a fiend for fish sticks and Judge Wapner, Affleck's Christian – one of his aliases – appreciates Renoirs and Pollocks. (He even likes the incongruity of Dogs Playing Poker.) Throw in some Beautiful Mind math wizardry and a Dexter-like adherence to a moral code, and we have a character study as much as a ruthless shoot-'em-up.
The crew-cut bookkeeper is pretty ruthless – don't let the pocket protector and sensible glasses fool you. He is shown as a boy, attempting to solve a jigsaw puzzle. When the final piece is missing, he freaks out. The scene is doubly important: One, it sets a life-long pattern of someone insisting on seeing everything he does through to the end; and, two, the film itself is an (overly) complex puzzle – one to be figured out bit by (sometimes tedious) expository bit.
To sum up the plot: Wolff is hired to look into the cooked books at a company called Living Robotics, which deals with prosthetics and military contracts – one artificial hand feeding the other. Founder John Lithgow seems sincere when he says he's not about the money, but for the good his company can do.
Another plot strand involves J.K. Simmons as Ray King, a soon-to-be-retired U.S. Treasury Department sleuth who assigns a suspiciously uneager analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to figure out the identity of the underworld accountant. The analyst has a backstory, too, but you don't need to hear it. (I wish I hadn't.)
Flashback scenes flesh out the plot and characters. The most interesting relationship involving our adding-machine assassin is with his military-man father, whose unusual tough-love treatment for his son is not to shield the boy from bright lights and loud noise but to overload him with it. He also teaches him and his little brother to fight, with a boot-camp approach.
In many ways, Wolff's father is much like the serial killer's dad on the late Showtime series Dexter, who is coached from a young age to own his singularity. "You're different," the boy is told in The Accountant. "Sooner or later, difference scares people."
Wolff's differences don't completely scare Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), who is the mousy whistle-blowing accountant at Living Robotics. Her coming across some crooked numbers is not a great career move, to say the least. To say the most, it might end up getting her killed, although she does have the ever-loyal Wolff protecting her.
What's most fascinating about the film is the violence. Wolff dispatches his bad guys with the same lack of excitement and passion he displays while shooting cantaloupes from a mile away or itemizing deductions (which he is sort of doing). He's completely desensitized to it; his indifference is wryly comical.
As is the film. At the advance screening I attended, the audience giggled at the killings. The body count is outrageous, but The Accountant doesn't glorify the violence. The autistic assassin is an enlightened killer, and neurodiversity is less a politically correct invention and more a societal need. Something worth raising our eyebrow over, yes?