2 Stars Movies

Exhaustively exhausted: Ben Affleck’s Live by Night

Has any topic been more exhaustively dramatized than Prohibition-era gangsters?

Live by Night seems especially redundant so soon after HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which covers a lot of the same ground: the Florida/Cuba liquor pipeline, the Irish/Italian mob conflict, the pivot to legal gambling, etc. The explanation being pretty simple: original novelist Denis Lehane also contributed to Boardwalk Empire. The few elements not already done to death by the gangster genre, including additional conflicts with evangelicals and the Klan, are in this case simultaneously not enough and too much.

Also, did Ben Affleck always play every role as a man in a deep depression, or is this a recent development?

Two out of five stars.

3 Stars Movies

The Accountant is A Brilliant Mind meets Death Wish

You can imagine the elevator pitch: “A Brilliant Mind meets Death Wish! Ben Affleck! Anna Kendrick!”

Director Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant flirts with righteous anger at big business financial corruption, but wimps out by ultimately fingering a single venal individual with a hired army of faceless mercenaries. There’s nothing engaging about a plot that can be resolved by the hero shooting a few people in the head.

Only a fool would go to a violent action flick and complain about its violent action, but I’m a fool, so here you go: I found The Accountant’s gunplay and brutality a little hard to take. The protagonist has high-functioning autism, with its corresponding problems with empathy and emotional intelligence. But his capability to cooly execute without remorse seems to me to be more in the realm of psychopathy. Even the brainwashed supersoldier Jason Bourne was tortured with remorse, making him more of a tragic figure than a gunslinging Dirty Harry.

It does have an enjoyably twisty plot, but cheats by untangling much of its complex backstory in a lengthy expositional infodump near the end (thankfully ameliorated by the ever-capable J.K. Simmons’ delivery). The suspense of waiting for certain character backstories to be revealed is entertaining, but the particular mystery the movie saves for its climactic reveal is also its most obvious.

Anna Kendrick can’t help but be charming and likable, but she’s given almost zero characterization here. I wish more had been made of a young, idealistic professional who naively blows the whistle on a poisonously dangerous corruption. But she’s is pretty much a blank love interest with an incongruously swank, well-appointed loft apartment. And she throws herself at Affleck a little quickly (but I’ll chalk that up to PTSD and Ben’s pretty chin dimple).

All of that said, there’s a lot to commend The Accountant. It’s an original story, not a sequel, adaptation, or remake. And while I’m uncomfortable with its equation of autism with psychopathy, the movie mostly avoids either romanticizing or exploiting the disability.

%d bloggers like this: