Math doesn’t lie.
People do. They lie so often that they don’t even know it. “I’ll just die if I don’t get that promotion,” they might say, knowing full well that they’ll eventually die even if they do. People say information came “straight from the horse’s mouth,” even when you know it actually came from your mother. People exaggerate and joke. They hem and eschew. They expect you to read depth of meaning in every facial crease and gesture. And if they mean to lie … well, all the worse.
Accountant Christian Wolff has always preferred numbers to people. His autism has always made interpersonal communication difficult. Numbers have always been more clear. More logical. More honest. More relatable.
Sure, he knows people sometimes use numbers to serve their own ends. He knows that data can be twisted and skewed. (He has, on occasion, twisted and skewed statistics himself.) But dig deep enough into the numbers, and they tell a story—a more truthful story, a story sometimes distinct from what the storytellers themselves would like him to believe.
Christian’s peculiar talents to suss out these stories from these numbers—lines and columns and boxes and warehouses of numbers—have earned him the trust of some of the world’s most untrustworthy characters. He has become the underworld’s go-to CPA.
But Christian helps regular folks, too—from mom-and-pop taxpayers to wholly above-board businesses.
Living Robotics, a company that creates much-needed smart prosthetics for people, is Christian’s latest client. One of the company’s in-house accountants—newbie Dana Cummings—thinks she’s found a $60 million discrepancy on the books. But the company’s accounting system is so incredibly complex that no one knows for sure. Would Christian be able to spend a little time with the numbers and see what they have to say?
But here’s the thing. Once Christian Wolff starts untangling the numbers—once he begins listening to the story they tell—he’s loathe to stop until the story’s done, even if it points to a bloody, brutal end.
When the job at Living Robotics threatens both his and Dana’s life, Christian sticks around to rescue the woman from certain death, rather than simply scoot to safety. He clearly cares for her wellbeing, despite it being against his own self-interest.
Christian has strong family connections as well. And he copes with his condition through tremendous self-discipline, working constantly to engage as normally as he can with the world around him.
[Spoiler Warning] Christian obviously makes a good (if sullied) living, but most of what he earns he donates to charity. He also anonymously tips off law enforcement to dirty deeds done by his clients, which helps keeps drugs, weapons and dangerous criminals off the streets. All these are half-measures, perhaps, and they certainly don’t excuse everything the accountant does. But in this section, we take what we can get.
An FBI agent, spying a huge gun in someone’s home, says, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
In a rare quiet moment, Christian admits to Dana that he has a difficult time connecting with people “even though I’d like to.” Dana sidles closer to Christian, and she looks as though she might be considering kissing him. But a telephone call interrupts the moment.
We see a picture of a tattoo on a woman’s lower torso near her hip (though nothing critical is seen).
Who knew that accounting could be such a violent profession? For Christian it is. And perhaps fittingly given his day job, when Christian kills (for various reasons), he tends to do it quickly and efficiently: a simple shot to the head, if possible. (We see several of his victims with bloody wounds on their foreheads, one of which suggests a cracking of the skull underneath). If a single shot isn’t practical, he pumps lead into the victim’s torso before sending a “let’s just make sure” bullet into the brain. About 20 people die in this way—sometimes accompanied by a bloody spatter.
Christian makes one exception early in his career—killing two mafia thugs with, we hear, “their own steak knives.” (We witness these two murders through a distant, grainy, black-and-white security camera, which makes the deaths look bloodless.) Seven other evildoers are killed in the same attack, and while we don’t see Christian kill them, we are exposed to the aftermath when an agent runs into the apartment building crime scene: Bloodied, dead bodies lie in the hallways; blood splashes decorate the walls. As authorities watch surveillance footage, we hear the gunshots, a doomed scream, shouted profanities and, in one case, people pleading for their lives. Christian also strangles someone.
One man is apparently tortured to death. A scene involves someone driving a nail through a man’s hand with a nail gun, while someone else holds a blowtorch. Later, the man’s mutilated body shows up at the morgue (audiences just see his bruised, mottled face). A grenade takes one life and wounds another person. Someone gets pounded with a porcelain toilet tank lid before his face is smashed into a bathroom sink (breaking the sink). People punch and kick each other. A guy is clocked in the head and stomach while sitting in his car, eventually getting slammed into his own steering wheel. Someone gets yanked out of a moving car. A killer encourages a man to commit suicide through an overdose of insulin—and is told that if he refuses, the killer will murder his wife, too. Christian beats his own leg bloody with a dowel, eventually breaking it.
As children, Christian and his brother are taught self-defense (and offense) by a series of “specialists” at the direction of their father. One specialist beats both brothers practically to a pulp, then tells the boys’ dad that they should stop for the day—that they’re doing their best. The father insists they fight on: If they were doing their best, he says, it’d be the trainer who’d be “covered in blood and snot,” not them. Later, the boys’ father encourages them to beat up a bunch of bullies who apparently attacked Christian earlier.
Elsewhere, a man threatens to “violate” another man’s wife in several different, sexual ways. (He later recants, saying that he’d only kill her.)
About 25 f-words and 10 s-words. God’s name is misused five times, twice with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused three times. Characters also say “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—” and “p-ss.”
We hear that Christian works for illegal drug organizations on occasion, and that he was instrumental in stopping some of their drugs from landing on the street.
Someone talks about how she shoved cocaine into a dealer’s mouth and stuffed him in the trunk of a car for a few days. The incident, we’re led to believe, helped one of the dealer’s customers to break the habit and to have a productive life. Another character talks about what helped him stop drinking.
Christian takes prescription medication.
Christian helps a farmer and his wife earn a much-needed tax break, but does so by stretching the truth on a tax form. Dana talks about how she gambled to pay for a prom dress. There are references to belching and passing gas.
People lie, even when they don’t mean to. And the stories they tell can do so as well.
The Accountant is violent popcorn fare—an exuberant, illogical action-packed thriller that’s only message is, “Sit down and watch Ben Affleck shoot people for a while.” This film does not encourage deep thought and is not trying to convey any moral or philosophical truth.
But it does try to suggest that Affleck’s character, the titular accountant, is at his core, a good guy of sorts. It posits that it’s better to have him out on the streets where he can do some qualified good than behind bars for, y’know, killing 20 or so people and accepting blood money or stolen contraband for his services.
But that, of course, is a lie.
There’s another paradox in play here as well, given that Christian’s big accounting gig here also delves into the realm of moral relativism: Here’s a company that does great work, but folks within the company were cooking the books a bit. No one was really harmed through their creative accounting. No one even actually lost money. Sure, it was wrong … but does that little bit of wrong wash out all the good the company and its leaders have done and are doing?
For Christian, the answer is beside the point. The numbers don’t lie, and they have no room for relativism. And I think if Christian the accountant looked at The Accountant through that same definitive lens, this movie would end up in the red.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.