In 2016, Ben Affleck starred in a movie as a millionaire action hero who was hardened by familial trauma, trained as the perfect killing machine, and lived under an assumed identity. He adhered to a strict moral code and delivered swift, brutal justice to anyone who intended to harm other people. He gave tips to law enforcement that would allow them to capture high-profile criminals. He had an accomplice who kept his vigilante ways a secret. I am, of course, talking about The Accountant.
Sure, these characteristics could also apply to the beefy Batfleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that film wasn’t good. (If it’s any consolation, Affleck is unquestionably the best part of a terrible Zack Snyder movie that hinges on two superheroes’ moms sharing the same first name; I cannot say as many nice things about Live by Night.) Perhaps I should clarify: The Accountant wasn’t good in any artistic sense; it shouldn’t end up on the Criterion Channel in a few years, as hilarious as that would be. Rather, The Accountant’s goodness ought to be measured by the weirdly high rewatch value (we need Rewatchables: The Accountant ASAP!), the absurdity baked into the premise, and, most importantly, the number of sequels I would willingly inhale (15, at least).
I have seen this film eight times in the past three years; I have a certifiable Accountant addiction. It’s gotten to the point that I’m actively protesting The Way Back, Affleck’s newest release with The Accountant director Gavin O’Connor, solely on the basis that it isn’t The Accountant 2: Tax Return. In a very real exchange with my editor, when asked whether I wanted to write about The Way Back, I outright refused because, quote, “they didn’t make another Accountant movie and that sucks.” Why does The Accountant inspire such fervor, and why is the lack of an Accountant sequel the bane of my existence? This is one of those things that can’t be solved by crunching numbers, so I hope breaking down The Accountant’s many eccentricities will offer some clarity to the Cult of Accounting—if only for my concerned family, friends, and colleagues.
As you’ve probably surmised, Affleck plays our titular accountant, Christian Wolff. Christian has a form of high-functioning autism and lives in Plainfield, Illinois, working out of a small office in a strip mall. But—and you’re not going to believe this—things with Christian aren’t quite what they seem. When he’s not helping farmers file their tax returns, he moonlights as an accountant for drug lords, arms dealers, and other criminal organizations. Eventually, his exploits catch the eye of Treasury Department agent Ray King (played by J.K. Simmons). When Christian assumes he’s taken a “clean” job auditing a robotics company, he’s thrust into an embezzlement conspiracy that threatens his life and the life of one of the company’s in-house accountants, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick). Unlike presumably most accountants, however, Christian can handle hitmen coming for his life because [deep breath] he and his brother were trained in combat by their military father—and, in one flashback, by a goddamn Indonesian pencak silat master—to become unstoppable warriors.
The Accountant, in other words, is essentially CPA propaganda by way of Jason Bourne. No, but really, this movie takes the accounting half of the narrative just as seriously as the shootout half. In the first third of the film—before Christian goes on a rampage to protect Dana and get revenge on the robotics company’s evil, embezzling CEO—we get an honest-to-god accounting montage that is handled with gravitas. Most action movies want to get straight to the good stuff (i.e., the fight sequences), but The Accountant takes its sweet time to emphasize that Christian is really good at his day job and loves what he does. It’s oddly endearing.
When the action does come, punctuated by Christian killing assassins who were targeting Dana at her apartment, it doesn’t feel like most other fight sequences. Christian spends most of the movie seeming aloof, something which the viewer is meant to attribute to his autism. John Wick has some emotion on his face when he’s dispatching dozens of bad dudes, but Christian acts completely perfunctory and is almost oblivious to the carnage. After he kills a guy by smashing his head into a sink and shooting him in the head, he calmly tells Dana, “We should go,” barely raising his voice above a whisper. You never believe he’s going to be in danger because he never looks worried. It’s practically anti-drama by the time we get to the movie’s final setpiece, in which Christian shoots Evil CEO John Lithgow before he can finish his patented Bad Guy Monologue. (I laugh out loud every time.)
I think that’s what makes The Accountant such an addictive rewatch: It does most of the things you’d expect to see in an action movie, but in a way that bucks convention. The hero goes through the plot of an action movie while maintaining the temperament you’d expect from someone picking up their laundry; the bad guy never gets to wrap up his big speech. Even with the subplots and side characters, everything feels slightly off. Anna Kendrick, effervescent as always, makes Dana feel like she belongs in a different movie—perhaps, for whatever reason, an accounting-based romantic comedy. So does Jon Bernthal, playing a chatty, charismatic hitman who seems like he’s auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino project.
Yet even those characters pale in comparison to basically everything The Accountant does with Ray. For starters, Ray decides to blackmail a younger treasury agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to help him find “the Accountant” and continue his work once he retires—even though I’m pretty sure she’d have said yes without intimidation because it sounds like the only cool gig in the Treasury Department. The film also stops dead in its tracks so that Ray can deliver a lengthy, 10-minute exposition dump about Christian’s past, the way their lives intersected, and how Christian is the one tipping him off to bad guys. It’s a “let’s catch our audience up to speed” moment blatant enough to make the Austin Powers franchise’s Basil Exposition blush.
Granted, The Accountant’s absurdity truly peaks when Bernthal’s hitman, the perfectly named Braxton, stops protecting Lithgow’s CEO because—gasp—he is Christian’s brother. The twist is ridiculous, and rather than build to an explosive climax, they release some pent-up brotherly rage and then Braxton is just like, “Bro it’s been too long, we should hang sometime” and Christian’s like, “Yeah, OK.” It’s strange, it’s silly, and there’s a knowing humor that works with the material—we’re talking about an accountant who killed someone with his belt, after all.
And yet the comedic elements of the film never come at the expense of Christian’s autism. If there is an underlying message to The Accountant—other than the importance of familial bonds and a good internal audit—it’s that people on the spectrum are not less than. In this context, an autistic person is practically a superhero with a pocket protector—as unstoppable in a fight as Jason Bourne, John Wick, or Liam Neeson taking a form of transportation. It’s a well-intentioned message packaged around a silly framework, and one that begs for the franchise treatment.
Just picture it: Christian Wolff taking down shady corporations with Sharpies and silencers. Throw in the prospect of more Jon Bernthal heat checks, and you have the makings of something special; what Martin Scorsese would call cinema. Sadly, The Accountant 2 isn’t on the horizon—at least not yet. O’Connor and Affleck’s professional relationship has pivoted to The Way Back, in which the actor plays a high school basketball coach experiencing alcoholism. It looks like a wrenching film, and a role Affleck has acknowledged wields some personal significance.
Thankfully, Affleck hasn’t brushed aside the prospect of an Accountant Cinematic Universe; it just might arrive on a different medium. The actor told Collider last month that The Accountant has been discussed as a possible TV series, and that he’d be down to reprise the role if it comes with the right script. Whatever the medium, The Accountant has established itself as a specific kind of cult hit: the type you’ll always want to watch on a plane, or turn on midway through an airing on TNT. Sometimes these are, if I’m being honest, my favorite types of films—the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. (The fact I’m even writing about a film that came out four years ago instead of the Ben Affleck movie that’s coming out this weekend is an endorsement in and of itself.)
I think I can speak for all Accountant-heads when I say that we’ll take a sequel in whatever form: a feature film, a TV series, a Quibi project (OK, maybe not that). To use some terminology our king Christian Wolff might appreciate, what really matters is that we get an Accountant sequel on the balance sheet.