Friday, October 14, 2016


Opening this weekend:

The AccountantThere’s a degree of wit in naming an action thriller The Accountant. Even before the classic Monty Python sketches featuring Arthur Putey, accountants have traditionally been seen as comic dullards and drudges.

But as with Jean Reno’s “The Cleaner” in La Femme Nikita, the term “accountant” has an extra meaning here—it’s moral as well as financial books that get balanced. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, one of many aliases of a bean-counter who secretly works for vast criminal enterprises, and gets paid in cash or gold bullion or first issues of Action Comics or Renoir and Pollack originals. Chris is a high-functioning autistic man of remote, robotic affect, given to self-stimulation and other obsessive behaviors in private.

For quite a stretch this thriller, directed by Gavin O’Connor from a script by Bill Dubuque, takes an intriguingly quiet, reserved approach, giving us peeks into the title character’s life and backstory as he studies the seemingly cooked books of a prosthetics manufacturer (John Lithgow) and tentatively bonds with an amiably nerdy fellow accountant (Anna Kendrick). All the while, two Treasury operatives (J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are zeroing in on him.

Then, about midpoint, The Accountant suddenly spins into a tense and violent actioner, with shootouts and martial arts brawls. It’s quite effective on this level, too; the shift into Jason Bourne-style mayhem seems like an entirely natural turn for the movie to take.

Affleck keeps things admirably low-key as Chris, not letting more than a hint of loneliness or sly drollery slip out from behind the stony façade. All of the acting is strong, with Kendrick particularly endearing as the colleague, tirelessly friendly even as Chris keeps throwing her off-balance with his dogged literalism.

The movie is really quite good of its kind. If it misses greatness of its kind, it’s in the final third, when it takes yet another turn, this time for the windy. The Treasury man abruptly spews a big lump of exposition, and even with illustrative flashbacks it still calls up Simon Oakland’s explanatory lecture at the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s J. K. Simmons, so (as with Oakland) it’s delivered with enjoyable panache. But it still feels artificial, and O’Connor and Dubuque allow several other characters to launch into similarly wordy and heavy-handed rambles.

But this is less complaint than quibble. Considering the theme, and the impressive intricacy of the plot, it would be ungrateful to criticize O’Connor and Dubuque for making sure, perhaps overzealously, that all of the movie’s details are accounted for.

Max RoseJerry Lewis plays Max, a jazz pianist nearing 90. In the days after the death of Max’s beloved wife (Claire Bloom), he finds a clue—an inscription on her elegant compact—that indicates that she might have cheated on him, half a century earlier. Already devastated by grief, he’s further rattled by this possibility, and finds he can’t let it go.

Although Max’s probing of the past leads, toward the end, to a mildly Gothic confrontation with the author of the inscription, it’s nothing terribly shocking. This strand serves, mainly, to give a hint of mystery and tension to this small-scale drama, written and directed several years ago by Daniel Noah and only now finding its way into a few theaters. The movie’s real function is as a showcase for Lewis. He’s in every scene, almost every shot, often in full-on facial close-up, giving us his take on weary but unsettled old age.

And formidable his chops are. There’s never been any doubt of his talent or of his star power; with Lewis it’s always been a question of how much, at any given time, he was going to tyrannize us with his massive performer’s ego. As Max Rose, there’s no mugging, no pushing, no visible self-indulgence—his lined, drooping face is inscrutable, his speech maddeningly measured. If anything, he’s more restrained than he needs to be, but when he suddenly barks in anger, it’s like a slap.

The small supporting cast is led by Kerry Bishé as Max’s anxious, adoring granddaughter, who clowns for him and tells him silly jokes, and Kevin Pollak as the semi-estranged son to whom he can barely bring himself to speak. Also on hand are such vets as Lee Weaver, Dean Stockwell, Mort Sahl, Rance Howard and Illeana Douglas. But in most of their footage they serve, basically, as human follow spots for Lewis.

He lends a magnificent turn to a movie the point of which is that getting old is tough, and that you may not have known everything about the people closest to you. These revelations won’t exactly blow the minds of most viewers—even those of us who aren’t quite as old as Max yet—but it’s hard to argue with the power of the star’s presence.

No comments:

Post a Comment