By Colin Covert
Having played a blind superhero more than a decade ago in Daredevil, and a daring depressive this spring in Batman v Superman, Ben Affleck now goes one better. In The Accountant, he’s a genius CPA whose autism makes him withdrawn, intensely focused and largely unconcerned with other people’s emotions. As well as a deadly rifleman, lethal martial arts brawler and international man of mystery.
Slip beyond the unusual premise, and the film is an odd but coherent mix of story-driven detective movie, character-driven financial thriller, action drama and understated sardonic comedy. It sounds peculiar and perverse, but it is by and large crackling good entertainment. While Gavin O’Connor, who directs, and Bill Dubuque, who wrote, attempt to cram more melodrama into the movie than it can easily absorb, this is a mystery that is unusually compelling. The surprises that earn a “Really? Seriously?” reaction are outnumbered by jolts worth a “Wow, didn’t see that coming.” The reservations are there, but moments of admiration outweigh them.
Affleck, playing protagonist Christian Wolff, is introduced as a savant helping small-town types find the best way around the 1040 better than TurboTax can. He speaks with them as if from a distance, avoids eye contact, gestures with the artificial style of a marionette and eats solitary dinners in a home as empty as a shoebox. His refusal of direct contact is traced to his childhood, where his behaviour as a distant and hyperactive little boy put his mother in hysterics of her own.
When Mom ran from her marriage, Christian and his intense young brother were raised by their Army officer father. Treated like recruits rather than relations, they were trained with a level of military discipline and commando drills that few parents could impose without being certified insane. But those skills serve Christian surprisingly well in adulthood. Emotionally distant from challenges that would alarm many others, he has travelled the world while posing as an everyday bean counter, serving the sorts of highly lucrative, dangerous clients who use handguns as paperweights.
He is in twin gun sights. As the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, run by Ray King (J.K. Simmons), launches an investigation, a mysterious vigilante named Braxton (Jon Bernthal) is striking against evildoers very much like Christian’s secret clientele. Hiding in plain sight, Christian takes on an apparently lawful customer. That would be Lamar Black (John Lithgow), a tech guru who needs the freelance forensic accountant to uncook the books of his big company, where an accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) has discovered millions of dollars missing. As Christian starts to uncover the truth, the shootouts, fight scenes and body count begin to increase.
Kendrick is very funny, playing her character as a teenager math nerd at heart, a self-conscious wallflower who recognises a kindred spirit in the shy Christian. In scenes recalling the strange love affair in A Beautiful Mind, the socially inept couple develop an unexpected rapport. When dire circumstances send them down a shared path, she demonstrates survival skills that would impress a Navy SEAL. Despite its excellent supporting cast, she and Affleck are the main reason to see The Accountant, playing together with the sort of ease and self-assurance that is, in a movie, as exhilarating as it is rare. –Star Tribune (Minneapolis)/TNS
A stunning example of Marvel magic
By Rick Bentley
The makers of the latest comic book-inspired feature film Doctor Strange faced the same hurdle as those who put together Guardians of the Galaxy. Both come from the lesser known quadrant of the Marvel Comics galaxy.
Guardians became a massive box office and fan hit with brilliant casting, a smart script and stunning visual effects. Doctor Strange uses the same formula – but kicks it up 100 degrees – to make Doctor Strange one of the best films in the Marvel Comics film library.
For those of you not that familiar with the character, Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the world’s most accomplished and egotistical surgeon. That changes when a car accident leaves him with mangled hands that end his brilliant surgical career. Attempts to use traditional medicine to fix the problem fall short, leaving Strange searching for more unorthodox ways of healing. Those efforts unlock mystical powers that turn the man of medicine into a force to protect Earth from supernatural assaults.
Bringing this story so beautifully to life starts with the casting of Cumberbatch as Strange. As good as Cumberbatch has been playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series about the masterful detective, he’s even better as the man of magic.
Cumberbatch brings a seriousness to the role that helps bridge the scepticism gap created with any feature film based on a comic book. His reverent approach to playing the role makes it easy to accept the character, both as a self-centred man of medicine and as a manipulator of magic. It takes a confident actor to be able to slip into a superhero costume and make it look serious. Cumberbatch embraces the look with the same importance as if he were starring in “Hamlet.”
Couple that with being able to deliver the touches of humour sprinkled through the film and Cumberbatch delivers a well-rounded performance. Those behind the films based on DC Comics have had trouble finding a way of adding touches of humour without disrupting the flow of the narrative. They should look at Doctor Strange for inspiration.
While Cumberbatch is confident and cool delivering both the serious and the silly, it starts with a perfectly balanced script by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C Robert Cargill. They capture the essence of the writing Steve Ditko brought to the character when he was created in 1963 for Marvel Comics.
The bigger challenge created by Doctor Strange is the need to have so much origin material since the character has such a low profile in the comics. Despite being faced with so much explanatory material, the writers find a skilful blend of setting up the character, taking him through his transformation and establishing Doctor Strange as being as powerful in the Marvel Universe as Thor, Iron Man or any other costumed hero.
As if that weren’t enough, director Scott Derrickson has created a film that moves from the intimate to the fantastical without pause. He knows when to allow the cameras to embrace the human moments, but when the scenes need to explode with the mind-blowing images reminiscent of the original comic book he doesn’t hold back. It’s as if he took the movie Inception, pumped it full of steroids, hit it with gamma rays and let it loose.
Even when the movie gets massively visual, the film never gets away from the central strength of Cumberbatch’s performance. That’s not easy to do, but accomplishing the task is why Doctor Strange is pure Marvel magic. —The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)/TNS
Saqr Entertainment Stores, Doha
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