The Accountant movie and autism

THIS movie seems to glamourise autism, a move which leaves me uncomfortable that such a Rain Man-type of difference has accorded film-makers leave to turn them into Marvel-type superheroes.

In fact, I can see the concept might well be the start of a franchise. The Accountant Strikes Back or The Accountant Returns, are some future titles.

The central character of Christian Wolff (played by Seth Lee as a boy and Ben Affleck as an adult), suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism characterised by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

The movie opens with a robbery sequence and then comes some scenes with a young Christian, “stimming” as he completes a jigsaw puzzle. His younger brother, Brax, offers no help when Christian goes a little bonkers after one pjigsaw piece is missing. A girl, also autistic, helps him out. Meanwhile, Christian’s parents learn about their son’s problem.

We zip into the adult Wolff who is now a forensic accountant in a small town. He helps out an elderly couple with their tax issues. We soon find out that this nerdy accountant has clients around the world, who pay him in cash and kind like Renoir and Jackson Pollock artworks for money laundering. It’s just book-keeping for Wolff who is a mathematics savant.

As he goes about his life, flashbacks show how his parents’ divorce over what treatment he needed, and how his military psychologist father  (Robert C. Treveiler) had ruthlessly trained him and his younger brother so that the former would not be bullied for being “different”.

Thus, he is now an adult Cyborg or the new Terminator. His martial arts of pencak silat is not often featured in Hollywood movies. But the director O’Connor wanted that style, calling it “incredibly efficient, so it served our purpose in a very cinematic way”.


But he sees the world with a black-or-white code, not necessarily one of that normal people adhere to. So it’s okay for him to launder the money, as long as it is done right, in mathematical perfection. Then, he gives away his earnings to charity, in particular the hospital which houses the girl who helped him with the jigsaw piece all those years ago.


To work out his anguish over his “difference”, Wolff massages his legs with a wooden stick, even hurting himself. I know of autistic children who bite themselves. But such nuances to autism is too much for The Accountant which is at heart a crime thriller.

Wolff takes one a non-Mafia case as the US Treasury Department is on his tail. His advice come over the phone with a woman’s British accent.

The client specialises in constructing prosthetic limbs, and Wolff reluctantly works with the company’s junior accountant (Anna Kendricks of Pitch Perfect fame) who had uncovered the US$61 million discrepancy in the books. There is no room for romance in this movie. But there is a lot of macho action. Suddenly, his brother (Jon Bernthal) reappears after all these years as the other great hitman in town.

The end is not a bang-up conclusion.

We are all flawed characters. But to make an autistic person into the comic-book hero is, in my opinion, veering into bad taste. But that’s what seems to be the real point of The Accountant.


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