Rain Man with a Kalashnikov.
(Another Bob the Movie Man Showcase Theatre).
The scene: studio execs in a board room in Warner Brothers. Greg Silverman, head of Creative Development walks into the room full of his most creative guys and slams a script by Bill Dubuque onto the table.
Silverman: “Affleck needs a real zinger of a film to follow his Batman work and this is it… but we we need a really riveting title… something to grab everyone’s attention and get them begging to pay their ticket money to see. Hit me!”
Creative 1: “The Autist?”
Silverman: “Like your thinking…. good Oscar associations… but perhaps a tad non-PC.”
Creative 2: “Under the Skin?”
Silverman: “Been done. Besides, don’t want everyone thinking they’re going to see THAT much of Johansson again”
A grey looking financial director, sitting in the corner: “Er… sir… I’ve got an idea….”
So… it’s not the most PR-friendly title in the world, but it is a whole lot more interesting than it sounds. Ben Affleck plays the titular accountant (who may or may not be called Christian Wolff) – a sort of evil Jack Reacher of the financial world: off-the-grid behind multiple aliases and with financial fingers in more murky pies around the world than seems tasteful.
Not only is he a mathematical genius with the numbers, but is also extremely handy with his fists and an arsenal of high powered weaponry he keeps in his executive trailer home… ready to up-roots and disappear at any time.
Supported over the phone by a mysterious ‘Pepper-Potts-style’ personal assistant, who appears more machine than person, Affleck is guided from job to job, dropping in the occasional “normal” job to keep the authorities off his tail. One of these is for a bio-technology company headed up by Lamar Black (John Lithgow) who brings him in – against the wishes of his FD and long term friend Ed Chilton (Andy Umberger) – since all appears not quite right in the books. Junior accountant Dana Cummings (Anna “Pitch Perfect” Kendrick) is the young lady who has seen the discrepancy but can’t track it down in the labyrinthine accounts.
This so called ‘safe’ job lands both him and Dana in extreme danger as person or persons unknown, fronted by a hired ‘heavy’ played by Jon Bernthal, try to prevent some dodgy activities coming to the surface.
As a parallel thread, the head of the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, Ray King (J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”) strong-arms (for no readily apparent reason) analyst Marybeth Medina (an impressive Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into pursuing Wolff. With a keen intellect and a strong incentive she begins to close in.
Directed by Gavin O’ Connor, this – for me – is a frustratingly inconsistent film. When it flies, it really flies well, both at an action level and at a dramatic level. The flashback scenes to Wolff’s childhood are well done, showing how the autistic and needy youngster who needed compassion, quiet and understanding got the exact opposite from his militaristic father (Robert C Treveiler) to ‘jolt him out of’ his condition. It is easy to understand how he turned out the way he did.
On the flip side, the plot progression almost deliberately shines a spotlight on some questions (no spoilers) that if you ask them you immediately see the answers, resulting in most of the rest of the plot falling into place without shock or surprise. There was only one genuine twist for me, right at the end of the film, that I didn’t see coming.
The script by Bill Dubuque (“The Judge”) delivers some really nice scenes between Affleck and Kendrick, some smart (and genuinely funny) one-liners and one of the best abruptly ended speeches since Samuel L. Jackson’s in “Deep Blue Sea”. However, the whole Treasury Investigation story-line (however good it is to see J.K. Simmons act) is somewhat superfluous to the whole thing and just doesn’t work.
Kendrick and Affleck have good chemistry, with Affleck trying desperately to breathe some likeability into what is a pretty cold and calculating character. It’s hard though to empathise with someone who – albeit indirectly – is the source of such misery around the world through drugs, terrorism, dictatorships and God-knows what else. Kendrick plays kooky and naive really well, but she really ought to get some protocols sorted out around letting people into her apartment: she really doesn’t seem to learn!
It’s a nice idea and entertaining to watch, but the delivery is flawed.
Fad Rating: FFFf.