There was a story a while back, when “Guardians of the Galaxy” was still in theaters, where this guy took his autistic brother to the movie. His brother didn’t normally go out to the theater, but he immediately established a connection to Drax the Destroyer because of how the alien reacted to metaphors and expressions, with the one that stuck out being if something were to go over his head, Drax’s reaction was “Nothing goes over my head, my reflexes are too fast.”
The brother wrote a touching piece towards director James Gunn, actor Dave Bautista and the entire cast and crew of “Guardians of the Galaxy” for creating an action hero that his brother, an in effective everyone with autism, could relate to. Because those with autism have an immensely difficult time relating to other people, as well as film characters. Visual queues and non-verbal expressions are lost on most. So to find a character who is going through the same struggles they are can mean a great deal.
This is why I enjoyed parts of “The Accountant,” a film that boasts a great deal of action sequences featuring a character with autism, in particular Asperger’s Syndrome. Normally, the main character be as plain as possible, so that everyone in the audience can relate to our hero. Give him some basic struggles, maybe a quirky personality and you’re set. But in this film, we get a hero who has a mental illness that can’t be overcome with pills or even by Estes Therapy, and is detached from the world around him even though he wants to be apart of it.
Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an autistic genius, raised by a brutal military-oriented father who trained him and his brother to be feared and could beat up anyone who picked on him. As Christian grew up, he took a job as a CPA accountant, but has been secretly running the books for the deadliest organizations in the world. His latest job is a robotics company in the Chicago-area, and his able to unearth some old files that suggest the company is missing millions of dollars, which gets the attention of some hired mercenaries, led by the mysterious Brax (Joe Bernthal).
Meanwhile, the leader of the Treasury Department, Ray King (J.K. Simmons), is about to retire, but wants to use his last few months to track down this mysterious accountant and find out who he is and how he was able to get away with handling the money for the most dangerous people in the world.
Looking back on it, there is nothing spectacular about the story or the action of “The Accountant.” The plot follows an expected path, leading to a competent action sequence, which sets up a mystery about who is stealing the robotics company’s money, culminating in a poorly-shot action sequence in a dark house where you’re not exactly sure what’s going on. The plot is, at best, generic for modern-day thrillers, and at worst is tedious and predictable. Outside of the climax, which is handled badly, the cinematography is fine, as it meticulously shows the routine of Christian’s life and what happens to him when he deviates from that. These aspects of the film were adequately handled and performed.
The entire subplot with J.K. Simmons’ character ultimately goes no where and adds little to the story. There is a touching flashback where Ray King meets the accountant at gunpoint, done mostly in one long take and showcases the acting talent of Simmons, but that’s about all his story adds to “The Accountant.” The two never meet again, and King’s journey of finding this unknown man has no resolution.
Yet, despite all this, I will remember “The Accountant” for a long time, due to how well the film handled the sensitivity of being autistic. There have been films that danced around a character having autism and choosing not to attention to it. There have also been movies that show characters having symptoms of autism, deduced by the audience, but never directly referenced in the movie. “The Accountant” proudly proclaims that its main character is autistic, has difficulty socializing but has increased mental capabilities, doesn’t like being touched or having his senses overloaded, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
Christian puts himself in several awkward situations throughout the film, with both his clients and co-workers. He will outright say he hates something about a person’s outfit, usually because the other person asked Christian if he liked the outfit and he was only answering honestly, but he is willing to recognize when he might have upset someone and attempts to make the situation better. These people don’t treat Christian any differently, as they are mostly trying to understand him and appreciate the work he is doing for them.
There is one scene about halfway through the film, where Christian explains what is happening to his colleague, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), and he tells her about his Asperger’s Syndrome, how easy it is to get into a routine and how difficult it is to be broken from that routine and the inability to read people’s emotions and connect with them. His last line is what will stick with me – “I have a very difficult time socializing with other people, even though I really want to.”
As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, that line hit me hard. This isn’t a tortured soul looking to redeem himself or someone out for revenge. This is a man who wants to not be seen for his mental problems, and instead be looked at as a normal person who could be accepted, despite his illness, and be loved like everyone else. All he wants is friends and lasting connections, something very hard to come by for him, even though he tries so hard to make it work.
If anything else, “The Accountant” is for those who have to deal with this on a daily basis. It brings Autism to the front for everyone to see, and shows that they are all wonderful people waiting to be discovered. They may often be blunt or rash, but they are kind and caring individuals that deserve love just as much as anyone else.
Final Grade: B-