The Accountant (2016)


Ben Affleck sets his sights on those who criticized his casting as Batman.

Ben Affleck sets his sights on those who criticized his casting as Batman.

(2016) Thriller (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger, Alison Wright, Jason Davis, Robert C. Treveiler, Mary Kraft, Seth Lee, Jake Presley, Izzy French, Ron Prather, Susan Williams, Gary Basaraba, Fernando Chien, Alex Collins, Sheila Maddox. Directed by Gavin O’Connor

 

Most people have an idea of autism that is decidedly out of step with reality. The truth is that there all sorts of different types of autism and all sorts of different types of autistics. Some are low functioning, unable to take care of themselves and who are requiring of supervision. These are generally the types of autism that we tend to picture when we think about autism at all. Others are high functioning, some to the point where you wouldn’t know they were autistic if they didn’t tell you. The myth about autism that is most pervasive and most untrue is that autism goes hand in hand with mental retardation. Some autistics can be brilliant. Some can even be deadly.

Christian Wolff (Affleck) was born with a gift – a genius at problem solving. He’s a math whiz and able to ferret out patterns you and I could never see. He is also autistic, unable to interact well socially although he’d like to. He has rigid habits that govern his life; his breakfast is the same, every day, arranged on the plate in the very same way. He has his silverware in a drawer, arranged exactly the way he wants them – with no extraneous flatware to clog up his drawers. He likes things simple in his life.

Perhaps that’s because his job is so complex. You see, he’s an accountant and not just for anyone; he uncooks the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, ranging from drug kingpins to assassins to terrorists to warlords. This has attracted the attention of the Treasury Department and it’s lead agent, Ray King (Simmons) who is getting ready to retire but who has been chasing the accountant for years. He wants to get him as a crowning achievement to his career so he enlists agent Marybeth Medina (Addai-Robinson) who is even more brilliant than he.

In the meantime, Wolff has been brought in by a biomedical robotics firm called Living Robotics to investigate some irregularities in their accounting, irregularities unearthed by a junior accountant – the chirpy Dana Cummings (Kendrick). CEO Lamar Black (Lithgow) wants these irregularities cleared up before he takes the company public. Wolff begins his investigation and turns up something – something that puts he and Dana in mortal danger, as a killer named Braxton (Bernthal) shows up to clean house at Living Robotics.

I like the concept here a lot; a high-functioning autistic action hero and Affleck is the perfect choice to play him. Affleck can play closed-off as well as anybody in the business and he shows that skill here. Christian is socially awkward and a little bit wary of social interactions. When Dana starts flirting with him, he’s attracted but he doesn’t know how to react. The scenes between the two are some of the best in the film. The other supporting roles are solid here as well, although Lithgow may have left a few too many tooth marks on the scenery for comfort.

One of the issues I have with the film is that I don’t think O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque were quite sure whether they wanted to make a thriller or an action film. Perhaps they wanted to make a hybrid of both but the pendulum kept swinging in one direction or the other and it ended up being unsatisfying in that regard. Worse yet, there are several plot twists, including one regarding the Braxton character which may as well have neon arrows pointing to them and blinking graphics screaming “HERE! PLOT TWIST! YOU’LL NEVER GET THIS ONE!!!!!” and of course anyone with a reasonable amount of experience at the movies should figure it out early on.

I like Affleck a lot as an actor; always have, even when his career was in a slump. Heck, I even liked him in Gigli which is saying something. He does elevate this somewhat, as does Kendrick and to a lesser extent, Addai-Robinson and Tambor (whose scenes are all too brief as Wolff’s mentor). It’s enough for me to give this flawed film a mild recommendation. It’s not a movie to write home about but neither is it one to troll Internet forums over. It’s a solidly made bit of entertaining fluff that will keep you occupied and be promptly forgotten. That may be enough in a lot of ways, especially in these stressful times, but it could have been a whole lot more.

REASONS TO GO: Affleck is terrific here and his chemistry with Kendrick is authentic.
REASONS TO STAY: Most of the plot twists are telegraphed and the movie falls apart towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence as well as regular occurrences of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film is set in Plainfield, Illinois (just outside of Chicago) it was shot in Atlanta where the production company got much better tax incentives than Illinois offered.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Transporter
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Keeping Up with the Joneses

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Love Crime (Crime d’amour)


All the showers in the world won't wash out the stains left by a love crime.

All the showers in the world won’t wash out the stains left by a love crime.

(2010) Thriller (Sundance Select) Ludovine Sagnier, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Patrick Mills, Guillaume Marquet, Gerald Laroche, Julien Rochefort, Olivier Rabourdin, Marie Guillard, Stephane Roquet, Frederic Venant, Jean-Marie Juan, Suzanne Renaud. Directed by Alain Corneau

Power is intoxicating. You can’t get enough of it, particularly in the corporate world. Women are often thought to be above those power games that men play, but that’s not always particularly true.

Christine (Scott-Thomas) is a high-ranking executive with a multi-national American company. She sometimes brings her work home with her as well as her hard-working assistant Isabelle Guerin (Sagnier). The two women seem to be on very friendly terms, with Christine giving her protégé a scarf and Isabelle working long into the night for her boss.

But the affection is just a ploy. Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s ideas and in retaliation Isabelle sleeps with Christine’s boyfriend. Things start to escalate and soon it becomes apparent that Isabelle is far from the sweet, shy thing that she makes herself out to be. Something’s got to give and when it does it’s going to be extreme.

I’m keeping the plot points pretty minimal as I want you to be deliciously surprised by them as I was. This is the kind of thriller I dig on; taking unexpected twists but not coming from out of left field – you realize by the time the movie ends that all the clues and signs were there in plain sight . You just weren’t paying attention. At least I wasn’t.

Sagnier is a pixie-like French actress with one of those faces that will look almost childlike when she’s an old woman and certainly now while she’s 30-ish she looks considerably younger and innocent which is part of why she is perfectly cast here. She is sexy and competent, but she seems vulnerable and naive which is quite complimentary. It’s a complete and confident performance; she’s a major star in France and has done a few movies out here but has yet to really make an impact on the radar of American film audiences.

Scott-Thomas has actually become a big star in France although she continues to do English-language films from time to time. She is pushing 50, but that doesn’t prevent Gallic audiences to see her as sexy and seductive. American audiences seem to have a harder time with women of that age coming off as sexual; our age bias is a little disappointing because Scott-Thomas certainly is an attractive and sensual woman at any age.

The French excel at sexy; erotic thrillers have been pumped out by American directors for decades now (mostly on direct to home video) but they tend to push the overt sex scenes over seduction, using well-worn clichés to advance the story line  rather than coming up with clever twists of their own. The cat and mouse game between Christine and Isabelle takes a sudden turn that comes as a surprise unless you are very observant early on (or read a dumbass review spoiling the twist) but that’s not the really great part of the film – what happens afterwards and how one of the characters handles the situation they are left in is simply brilliant.

The title can be taken a couple of different ways which I’m not sure that Corneau intended – I’m not sure that the French title which this is directly taken from translates in the same way but I love that it can be interpreted as a crime of love, or someone who loves crime. That’s the kind of thing you roll over in your head in a movie like this. To put it bluntly, this is a movie that requires a little bit of brainpower to truly enjoy properly and not everyone wants to put in that kind of effort, which I can understand. However those who like their thrillers smart and sexy should seek this one out.

WHY RENT THIS: Sagnier is stellar. Really well-written story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Requires a good deal of attention to pick up on the film’s subtle clues and hints – some viewers may not want to invest the effort.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some sudden and brutal violence, and adult situations not to mention a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Corneau’s last film and was released posthumously after his death from cancer on August 30, 2010; the film also was remade by director Brian dePalma as Passion.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.6M on a $9.1M production budget; the movie was a box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Deathtrap

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Rabbit-Proof Fence

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)


The Girl Who Played With Fire

A couple of old friends get re-acquainted.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Michlis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Reuben Sallmander, Yasmine Garbi, Ralph Carlsson, Georgi Staykov, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Per Oscarsson.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

There are those of us who have causes and are passionate in pursuing them. The trouble with tilting at windmills, however is that often we find ourselves face to face with our own demons – and some of those demons have wicked claws.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is on the run following the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has leased out her apartment to an attractive woman named Miriam Wu (Garbi) and has paid a visit to her old abuser Bjurman (Andersson), threatening him with his own gun. When that gun is used to murder him later, as well as two reporters for a left wing magazine, Salander is framed for the crimes.

It so happens the two reporters worked for Millennium, the magazine published by Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) who doesn’t believe for a second that Salander murdered his people. Blomkvist decides to follow the investigation they were working on into a ring that brought Russian girls into Sweden to be used as sex slaves for wealthy Swedish men.

As corruption at the highest level of government begins to resist the investigation, Salander who is doing some looking into of her own discovers that her own past is very much a part of the murky shadows involved in these crimes. As Lisbeth and Mikael find their investigations are beginning to point to the same place, Lisbeth’s past threatens to collide head-on with their present which may leave either of them with no future.

The second book in the Millennium trilogy is definitely on the transitional side. You get a sense that events are being set up for the third installment (and they are). Alfredson takes over from Niels Arden Oplev who helmed the first movie, and lacks some of the visual style of the first. It also lacks the intensity and stress level of the first movie. It’s certainly more laid-back in tone, with more exposition and less action.

Still, the movie is redeemed by Rapace who continues to make Salander one of the most interesting characters to come along onscreen in decades. We get to see much more of her – she and Nyqvist barely appear onscreen together and only then near the end of the film. In many ways this is very much her show and while Nyqvist is a capable actor, his role is certainly secondary to Salander’s as it is in the book.

Purists may again wish the movie hewed a little closer to the book, but of course that’s not really possible – as it is the movie runs a little long to me. There are some significant plot changes but by and large the book and the movie are similar enough to get by.

There are a lot of complexities in the plot, with lots of subplots running through the movie. That’s both good and bad. Good in that it makes the movie more of a thinking person’s movie – and God knows we need more of those – but also it makes the movie unnecessarily convoluted. While those plotlines are necessary, still it can make the movie feel cluttered at times. However, in the defense of the filmmakers, I’m not sure there’s a way around it without either creating a fourth movie or making the third a lot more confusing.

Still, while this movie isn’t quite as good as the first, it’s still miles ahead of most of the competition. This is still a well-written and taut thriller and while the ending leaves it feeling a mite unfinished, that’s often true of most second films in a trilogy anyway. There are some definite gotcha moments and the performances continue to be strong. It left me eager to see the third and you can’t ask much more than that from a second movie in a trilogy.

WHY RENT THIS: Rapace continues to impress as Salander. Taut and well-written.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit blander than the first. Too much exposition and not enough action.

FAMILY VALUES: More of the same – brutal violence, much of it directed at women. Sexual violence including a rape, a bit of nudity and a few bad words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the only book and film in the trilogy where the Swedish title is the same as the English one (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled Men Who Hate Women in Sweden and the third movie The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was titled The Castle in the Sky That Was Blown Up in Sweden).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $67.1M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest