'The Accountant' struggles to find the right tone

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic who has used his limitations with human interaction to his advantage, becoming a freelance accountant for some of the more high-profile elements of the criminal underworld.

Somewhere stuffed inside the all-over-the-map “The Accountant” is a good film desperately trying to get out.

An initial premise that is rather intriguing quickly gets bogged down, however, by a film full of jarring tone shifts and subplots that bury the film’s initial promise.

There is something to at least earn some hope early in the film. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic who has used his limitations with human interaction to his advantage, becoming a freelance accountant for some of the more high-profile elements of the criminal underworld. Wolff is hired by the founder of a robotics company (John Lithgow) to look over his books after an accounting clerk named Dana (Anna Kendrick) uncovers a discrepancy involving millions of dollars.

Wolff confirms her suspicions and uncovers a deeper conspiracy putting himself and Dana in danger.

The idea of this math savant could have worked if Bill Dubuque’s screenplay would have focused on that. Instead, “The Accountant” went into something wildly different than its trailers suggest.

Wolff turns out to not only be a math savant, but a cold-blooded assassin capable of taking down armies at a drop of the hat. It’s as if Wolff is some sort of a hybrid of Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt from “Rain Man” and Jason Bourne.

There is also a subplot involving J.K. Simmons as a treasury agent who is investigating Wolff, with a payoff that is eye-rolling at best.

That subplot is nothing compared to the film’s other thread involving another assassin (Jon Bernthal) that leads to a plot twist that was so absurd it was funny.

All the competing story threads lead to a tone that never quite finds its way. One moment “The Accountant” is some weird dark comedy, and the next it evolves into some kind of Jason Statham action bloodbath. It just never finds its voice and as a result completely misses the mark. It’s a frustrating case of what could have been.

Also in theaters

After tons of Oscar buzz coming out of Sundance and some behind-the-scenes controversy over the summer, “The Birth of a Nation” (B) arrives unable to reach those lofty awards expectations while also not completely shaking the controversy that has spawned some to protest the film.

It’s an important film that doesn’t always hit the mark.

“Nation,” which tells the story of Nat Turner’s leading of the 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia, follows Turner (played by Nate Parker) from his childhood days to that rebellion, which ended in tragedy and bloodshed.

Parker also wrote and directed “Nation.” The 36-year-old has been under fire for his involvement in a 2009 sexual assault case in which the alleged victim eventually committed suicide. (Parker was acquitted). That backstory makes it hard to not watch “Nation” without thinking of Parker’s own story – especially in a scene that depicts the brutal rape and assault of a slave – but if you are able to separate the artist from the art there is no denying “Nation” is compelling cinema.

There are plenty of emotional and powerful moments, with some good performances – including Armie Hammer as Turner’s owner.

I wish Parker’s set-up to the rebellion was a little less, with more time spent on the 48-hour uprising. As is, the film feels off balance a bit with the uprising almost an afterthought to the events before it.

And for every three or four moments that work, there are moments where Parker tries to do a little too much with imagery and create the emotion that clearly doesn’t need to be forced. Parker the director also gets a little too infatuated with Parker the actor at times, not allowing “Nation” to showcase some of the talented supporting cast.

Still, for a first-time director Parker managed to make the most out of his ambitious endeavor. It may not be up to films that tackle the same subject matter, like “12 Years a Slave,” but it is still engaging and worth your time – and the discussion it is sure to incite after the screening.

“The Birth of a Nation” is rated R for disturbing violent content, and some brief nudity and is now playing at the Regal Bowling Green Stadium 12.

— To read Micheal Compton’s thoughts on other films, visit his blog at bgdailynews.com/blogs/reel_to_reel or on Twitter @mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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