The general autistic portrayal on film always risks being stereotyped as a social introvert, a human super-computer, or a mix of both. But I think it’s safe to say there’s seldom been an autistic accountant/maths savant/expert combatant. Until The Accountant that is.
The film follows Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a high-functioning autistic who moonlights as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. With the Treasury actively pursuing him, he decides to take on a legitimate client; a cutting-edge robotics technology, But, surprise, surprise, things go pear-shaped and the body count starts going up…
Now, for me, if you had taken away the autistic element, this film probably wouldn’t have turned my eye. And sitting through the cinema, I can see why. The plot feels like a rehash of most conspiracy films that came before it, plot points are bought up and discontinued in alarming succession and characters take extraordinary leaps of logic that leaves you wondering if these people are fueled on coincidence.
That having been said, the acting is solid and keeps you invested in the characters if not the story. Director Gavin O’Connor assembled a stellar cast who do their best with the material they have. Anna Kendrick is given very little to do besides offer a potentially ill-advised love interest whose arc is unceremoniously handled in the latter half. JK Simmons offers up more than the stereotypical ‘hard-ass government boss’, providing one of the film’s few emotive scenes. And Jon Berthnal is on top form here even though he’s part of a twist that any film fanatic will see coming a mile off.
But the star of the show in every possible way, is Ben Affleck. Even though he’s picked up the majority of his acclaim from his directorial work, Affleck has always been a capable actor. And here, he truly embodies the role of a high-functioning autistic. Whereas some portrayals have run the risk of portraying a condition rather than a character, Christian Wolff feels like a uniquely realized creation with his own personality and his own quirks that will still resonate with fellow autistics.
The flashbacks to Christian’s past either help or hinder the film, depending on how invested you are in the main plot. His upbringing poses some interesting questions for any family with an autistic individual, such as whether they should be forced to interact with a society that may reject them. Questions that many families with autistic children face in real life. Although, hopefully, without the super soldier training. The quality of the answers may be debatable, but the questions will stay with the audience.
For me, one of the most fascinating scenes depicted Christian deliberately exposing himself to flashing lights and loud noises, both key things that disturb autistic people. Later in this film, he goes about the same process, but struggles to do so on account of personal stress, almost regressing to prior behaviours. And Affleck plays that conflict with the perfect balance of precision and frustration. But he is self-sustaining. And that elevates what could have otherwise been a fairly average film.
When you look at real-life cases of autism, there is always the concern that some people with autism will struggle to achieve the skills necessary for independent living. And so, even though this story is being told through the mouth of Hollywood, it feels reassuring to see an individual who still struggles with certain traits, but is self-sufficient for the most part.
Of course, hopefully this film won’t lead to people thinking autistics could be the next Jason Bourne. There’s always a risk of stereotyping, but I think if you look at the performance alone without the story, it’s a fairly decent film. I prefer to think of it less about an action thriller that happens to feature an autistic person. Rather an autistic portrayal that happens to be in an action thriller. It makes the film much more engaging.
Despite a similar plot, The Accountant elevates itself with an insightful depiction of autism via a dedicated performance from Ben Affleck who avoids the label of Rain Man Mark 27.
Final Rating: 3/5 stars