Review Roundup: The Accountant Has 1099 Problems, But It Delivers a Remittance of Thrills

Ben Affleck in The Accountant. Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros. Entertainment

The Accountant stars Ben Affleck as a financial savant who makes his living as an accountant to some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. After a routine audit, critics have found multiple irregularities in the film's construction, but some of them seem inclined to overlook them, with many reviewers offering a deduction for the movie's spot-on casting. Still, the film’s winding narrative doesn't add up, and some critics found its depiction of Asperger's syndrome aesthetically, if not morally, bankrupt. Here’s what critics have to say:

“The action-thriller The Accountant is laughable, but when you’re not laughing at it, you’re laughing with it. It’s enjoyable enough. To avoid disappointment, you should know that despite the unconventional storytelling — a tapestry of flashbacks and twists that make you say, “What the hell!” — the movie is winding its way toward the most conventional payoff imaginable. However, mental-health advocates will be interested in its largely upbeat portrait of Asperger’s syndrome. The downside is plain: The hero, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), rarely makes eye contact and has little in the way of vocal modulation or a natural ability to read non-verbal social cues. He doesn’t have a girlfriend (or boyfriend) or any discernible friend. But he’s a mathematical genius, a cunning businessman, a ninja wizard, and a crack shot. As the autism spectrum goes, it’s not the worst trade-off imaginable.” —David Edelstein, Vulture 

“Who knows why Mr. Affleck, looking appropriately dead-eyed and miserable, committed himself to this laborious ultraviolent brain tease of a crime thriller. The movie, directed by Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds), makes little sense. The screenplay, by Bill Dubuque, is so determined to hide its cards that when the big reveal finally arrives, it feels as underwhelming as it is preposterous. And Mr. Affleck, despite a meticulous performance, never uncovers a glimpse of his abused character’s humanity beyond Christian’s carefully delineated symptoms.” —Stephen Holden, the New York Times

“Based on a deliciously pulpy Black List screenplay by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant was one of those projects that admirers imagined would never get made — and maybe they had a point, seeing as how the script casually assumes that someone with Asperger’s syndrome is potentially wired to become a ruthless killing machine. In the wrong hands, the screenplay could have been as controversial as Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill was with the trans community. But here, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) demonstrates the right way to handle such material, elevating what is essentially an exploitation movie into a Zen character study, one that takes its pound-of-flesh antihero seriously.” –Peter Debruge, Variety

“Two impulses war against each other in the film. There’s the desire to be a troubling, affecting drama about a fractured family, a story of regret with an urgent social theme. And then there’s the unflinching action movie that is, sadly, more marketing friendly. O’Connor and Dubuque try their best to fuse those two wants together, and there are times when The Accountant, with its odd pacing and bursts of unexpected thoughtfulness, works on both levels. But too much of the film is bifurcated, see-sawing awkwardly between its poles. The reveal of the twist at the film’s center is goofily handled, and Affleck’s performance has a glint of actor-y nonsense poking through all the mannered monotone.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair 

The Accountant is both an intriguingly and maddeningly schizophrenic action drama: It's intriguing due to its audacious attempt to make an antisocial, on-the-spectrum math genius into an action hero, and maddening because, having gone halfway toward genuine eccentricity, it conforms by relying on fatigued genre tropes when it finally gets down to business. All the more frustrating because of its conceptual freshness and Ben Affleck's sly turn in the title role, this sleek action thriller ends up delivering standard shoot-'em-up goods after initially suggesting it might provide something rather different. The sizable target audience probably won't mind.” –Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter 

The Accountant shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Christian seems to get a little 'better' as the film proceeds, evolving from an amusing stoicism to a more receptive attitude toward emotional stimuli—especially those provided by Dana Cummings (a delightful Anna Kendrick), the junior accountant who discovers a financial discrepancy at Living Robotics, the prosthetics manufacturer owned by Lamar Blackburn ( John Lithgow) and his sister Rita (Jean Smart). A montage in which Christian runs their numbers, and delights in his findings, is particularly good, and the robot theme recurs constantly: Christian’s chief consultant is the mechanical-sounding voice in his car, a cross between Siri and the car in Knight Rider. That the film’s nonautistic characters are occasionally sociopaths is one point well made. That people with autism are not unreachable is another: 'I have to find the person who wants to kill her,' Christian says of Dana. 'And?' asks the voice in the car. Christian: 'Shoot them in the head.' Mr. Affleck is in good form.” –John Anderson, The Wall Street Journal

“There are any number of enjoyable/quality pieces, but the puzzle doesn’t quite fit together. You will realize by the end how much of the movie, even stuff to be enjoyed at the moment, was superfluous and served to make a simple story seem more complicated. The Accountant is quite entertaining until we realize that it’s going nowhere special.” –Scott Mendelson, Forbes 

“Preposterous can be defined in many, many ways. But for now, let's use the plot details of The Accountant as Exhibit A. Ben Affleck, bravely tackling an impossible role, stars as Christian Wolff, a math wiz whose position on the autism spectrum has made him perfect material to moonlight as a paid assassin. That notion is offensive on so many levels, especially in the service of such low-grade crime fiction, that it's hard to focus on the other faults in the script by Bill Dubuque, who previously punished us with The Judge. And the talented director Gavin O'Connor (Miracle, Warrior) should know better than to let bad things happen to good actors. But that's what occurs, and it's painful to witness.” –Peter Travers, Rolling Stone