An old actor once told me about a time at the end of World War II when he and some army buddies saw a burlesque show headlined by the famous entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. It was the sexiest thing he ever saw; he and his pals sat there panting and salivating, and when Gypsy made her final exit they leapt to their feet cheering and whistling. Then they looked at each other in amazed confusion: The dancer never disrobed completely.
What does that have to do with the new Ben Affleck movie The Accountant? The Accountant is the movie-thriller equivalent of a beautiful striptease: it keeps us entertained, even spellbound, without ever making us pause to quibble over how little it is showing or telling us about the main character, where he comes from or the situation he’s in right now.
Affleck plays Christian Wolff, but that’s only one of his many names. Among the movie’s teases: One of the drawers in the Airstream trailer he keeps for quick getaways bulges with passports; others are crammed with various national currencies. Wolff—impassive, obsessive, on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum—is a superhuman number-cruncher, and is hired to investigate a $60 million shortage in the books of a high-tech company. The probe makes both Wolff and nerdy-cute Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the bookkeeper who discovered the shortfall, targets of a squad of assassins.
The goons are overmatched: Wolff is just as expert with weapons, including his fists and feet, as he is with math. After deftly disposing of the first squad, this asocial loner finds himself driven to protect the unsuspecting Dana.
Meanwhile, a Deptartment of the Treasury bigwig (J.K. Simmons) assigns a midlevel analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to unravel Wolff’s other activities “uncooking” the books of drug cartels, arms dealers and various other dangerous people. And a glib, mysterious enforcer (Jon Bernthal) follows his own path from victim to victim, on what we sense is a collision course with Wolff.
As if that weren’t enough, we get flashbacks to Wolff’s adolescence, where he struggles to channel his autism under the influence of a father (Robert C. Treveiler) who takes tough love way over the top, and to his time in prison, mentored by a former mob accountant (Jeffrey Tambor) in the subtleties of money laundering.
Writer Bill Dubuque (The Judge) and director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) mesh all these threads with confident craftsmanship; in this case, “slick” is a compliment. It all comes together so satisfyingly that we even welcome the prospect of an Accountant franchise. These characters—those who survive—still have secrets we’d like to hear.
In one flashback, the adolescent Wolff works a jigsaw puzzle face down. The Accountant is that kind of puzzle: We enjoy how the pieces fit, even if we can’t see the picture they make.