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‘The Accountant’ Would Make a Terrible CPA

Ben Affleck’s movie about a super-buff bookkeeper raises the question: How often does an accountant use a high-powered rifle? So we asked a real one.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

There have been a number of noteworthy accountants in cinema over the years: The Duke in Midnight Run, Loretta in Moonstruck, Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, Henry in The Royal Tenenbaums — I could go on. But while all of those accountants played pivotal roles in their respective films, none of those films were called The Accountant. And due to the rule that, if you are making the definitive movie about something, you have to call it The [Something] — those movie accountants cannot be the definitive movie portrayals of what it’s like to be an accountant.

As a result, the gap between “what we know about being an accountant” and “what we want to know about being an accountant” has remained agonizingly large. Who are these people? What makes them tick? What makes them … them? Either no one knew, or no one was talking.

But with Friday’s release of The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick and Jeffrey Tambor a little and Jon Bernthal Is A STAR™, everything is poised to change.

I saw Gavin O’Connor’s film last week, and was enthralled. On one level, it was a movie about Ben Affleck being smart after all and knowing about math and philosophy and owning an original Renoir and post-investing in gold bricks and Gus Van Sant didn’t write a word of Good Will Hunting not one word that’s a bullshit rumor go fuck yourself.

But on another level, I swear to god, it kind of was a movie about accounting.

Every minute of the film felt like a genuine “moment” — a peeling-back of the accounting curtain that had been pulled over my eyes for so long. Oh, I thought, when Affleck’s accountant hit the smiley-faced micropumpkin between the eyes with a long-distance sniper rifle from over a mile out. That’s what happens. Ahhh, I said to myself, after Affleck’s accountant took out an elite hit squad with the back part of a casual acquaintance’s toilet. Now I get it. OK — of course. That’s how that works. It was dense, sure, but it was also edifying and fun. After seeing The Accountant, I realized that I was now one of the first people in the entire world to know what being an accountant was like. And that felt amazing.

But then the strangest thing happened. I started to hear rumors. I started to hear that some of what was portrayed in The Accountant … well: It may not have been strictly accurate. The possibility hit me like a ton of bricks. After all of the waiting and all of the excitement: I realized that I still might not know what being an accountant is like.

Lost, I went searching for answers, and where I should have gone years ago: straight to the source. I spoke to a real-life accountant — one who has worked for a Big Four accounting firm, and who agreed to talk with us under the condition of anonymity. I asked him to separate fact from fiction. What does The Accountant get wrong about accounting? And what does it get right?

Here is everything he told me:

FACT: Accountants stay in great shape.

One of the biggest stretches of The Accountant, right off the bat, seems to be that Ben Affleck is so … buff. I mean, so buff. I mean, let’s just say it: He finished Batman, and he liked how he looked, and he said, “This is me now.” And good for him.

But look at him:

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

That’s not an accountant.

Or is it? Our accountant assured me that Affleck’s body actually checks out — and that he himself also stays in shape.

“A normal biceps day for me, I’d say, is three sets of 20-pound curls,” our accountant told me, without hesitation. “And I’m doing that twice a week. Sorry, my fiancée is looking at me and she’s saying, ‘That’s a good week.’ [Asks fiancée] Do I ever do any back and shoulder exercises? … Oh, yeah, so, for shoulders, I’ll do three sets of shoulder presses with, like, a 15-pound weight. For chest, typical day, probably 40 push-ups. Two sets of 20.”

FACT: An accountant would say hi to Anna Kendrick if he were sitting on a bench outside next to her on a lunch break.

In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Affleck and Kendrick bond on an outdoor bench over lunch after they strike up a conversation.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

I asked our accountant if this was even remotely realistic.

“I’m trying to imagine this scenario,” he said. “If we’re sitting on a bench … I think I would [say hi]. I’ve seen celebrities before, and I don’t try to bother them. But if she was just sitting on a bench and not with someone? Yeah, I would say hi … or whatever.”

And yet our accountant does have a bone to pick with the film’s BYO-lunch vibes. “Lunch would be Seamless,” he says with confidence.

FACT: Accountants have a soft spot for Anna Kendrick.

But it isn’t just lunch. Another implausibility in The Accountant seems to be its attempt at conjuring romantic chemistry between Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.

And yet our source confirms the film’s position: The couple makes sense. Or at least: Accountants definitely have a thing for Anna Kendrick.

“I’m very ‘for’ Anna Kendrick,” our accountant said. “I think she’s hot. She seems like she’s down to earth. You don’t see her in the tabloids. It seems like she tries to be an actress, and then does her appearances. We don’t see her trying to be public out there, like, an Angelina Jolie–type thing. She’s talented.”

FICTION: If an accountant is doing accounting on a whiteboard in a windowed conference room, and he runs out of room on the whiteboard, he’ll use the windows in the conference room, like in ‘A Beautiful Mind.’

In another pivotal scene, we see Affleck’s Christian Wolff pull an all-nighter while working on a big case at a client site. But this isn’t just your standard … cocaine-and-doughnuts, midtier accountant all-nighter. This is one of those “go John Forbes Nash Jr.’s Ghost–level apeshit on your client’s probably benevolent but on the other hand maybe the nicest guy in the room has a murderous plan to cake up before taking the company public, I’ve seen it happen before, I’m telling you, decade-spanning accounting problem” all-nighters.

Warner Bros. Pictures/Entertainment Weekly
Warner Bros. Pictures/Entertainment Weekly

And the film knows just what’s up. This is their one chance to make accounting seem cool. And so they milk it for all it’s worth. Numbers flying everywhere … an overbearing soundtrack … whisper-speed-counting on whisper-speed-counting on [extremely whisper-speed-counting voice] whisper-speed-counting. It’s like the training scene in Creed but if the kids on the bikes were dry-erase markers and at the end of the workout he went up to Anna Kendrick and said, “Look what I did.”

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

Anyway, it’s a pretty gripping scene. But it also feels like a bit of a stretch. On the windows — really?

“Wouldn’t happen,” our accountant told us. “I would take a picture [of the work] and wipe it off the board and reuse it.”

FACT: Accountants are good at puzzles.

Affleck’s accountant is incredible at puzzles: He does them in minutes — and he does them upside down. Does this check out?

“I’m pretty good at puzzles, I would say,” our accountant told us. “[I’ve had experience] doing them with my baby nieces and nephews. It was a couple years ago. It was a picture of, like, a bench, or … not, it was like a lion, or an animal or something like that.” Asked to rate himself at puzzles on a scale of 1 to 10, our accountant was firm. “At that puzzle? I would rate myself a 10.”

So it checks out.

FACT: Accountants trust John Lithgow.

One of the biggest tactical missteps that Affleck’s Wolff makes in the film is placing too much trust in Lamar Black, a robotics company founder played by John Lithgow. For such a smart guy, it’s a pretty rookie mistake: Lithgow is the most famous actor of the movie’s potential villains, by far — and the only really viable choice for its Big Bad. It becomes plainly obvious the film is turning him heel around the half-hour mark.

Is it believable that a genius like Wolff would miss these warning signs and trust John Lithgow a prohibitive amount?

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

“Sure,” our accountant answered, when asked if he trusts John Lithgow.

I pressed for more. Why the trust?

“He’s been around for a while, in the public sphere,” our accountant offered. “And I’ve never heard anything bad about him. When I was at the JCC growing up, 3rd Rock From the Sun was on the TV there.”

FICTION: Accounts have extensive combat training.

But out of all of The Accountant’s litany of implausibilities, the toughest one to negotiate is probably its decision to let Ben Affleck’s accountant go Full Jason Bourne. It’s just not necessary. Like: My dude is already a BUFF GENIUS MATH WIZARD with movie-star looks and a Midwestern disposition. Did we really also need to give him a combat fighter rating of “Deadshot x Wolverine”?

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

“No,” our accountant told me, point-blank, when asked if accountants are raised from childhood to be undefeatable, virtuoso killing machines. “Not true.” As far as real-life fighting experience, our accountant tells me, “I got into a couple of fights in middle school. I got into a fight on the bus because this guy was trying to hit on my girlfriend. I guess it wasn’t really a fight — I mean, I punched the kid and then our bus stop happened.”

Did the kid back off? “Yeah.”

Did he hit on our accountant’s girlfriend again? “You know what, I think he did.”

An earlier version of this story erroneously included a photo of Ben Affleck from The Town; it has been replaced with an image from The Accountant.