Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 4 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 8; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Do not envy the violent
and do not choose any of their ways…
Director Gavin O’Connor’s crime thriller is different in that its protagonist Christian Wolff, deftly played by Ben Affleck, is a math savant CPA with the fighting skills of Jason Bourne and the shooting prowess of Chris Kyle in American Sniper. Bill Dubuque’s script weaves together four parts—Wolff’s current job of uncooking the books for a corporation; his backstory that includes psychiatric examinations and extreme tough love from his father; the pursuit by two Treasury Department agents of the mysterious figure keeping the books for some of the world’s most vicious drug kings, dictators, and arms dealers; and a second backstory of the adult Wolff in a federal prison where he learned from an old criminal CPA how to launder money for the bad guys.
Ben Affleck does well in displaying the manner and look of a person with an acute case of autism. Everything is done in precise order. He apparently likes the number three—he cooks three eggs, three strips of bacon, and three muffin halves for breakfast, and keeps just a knife, fork and spoon in his kitchen drawer. He speaks in an emotionless voice, and later when interacting with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) at the robotics corporation to discover how $70 million has gone missing, he pays no attention to her charms.
During the segments of his childhood we see him quickly assemble one of those thousand-word jigsaw puzzles and then freak out when he cannot at first find the final piece. After his soldier father takes him to a psychiatrist. he tells his son, “You’re different. Sooner or later, difference scares people.” And so, while apparently stationed in Indonesia, the father hires a martial arts master to train the boy in the Indonesian martial art called pentjak silat. So, tough is his love that he forces the boy to continue to fight, even though he is so badly bruised and bleeding that the teacher thinks the session should end. Back in the States this would be called child abuse!
After his prison stint Wolf operates from a small office in a strip mall just south of Chicago. His services to international shady characters have enriched him so much that he keeps in his garage an Airstream trailer packed with his prized possessions–two original paintings, one by Renoir and the other by Jackson Pollock; a lightsaber signed by George Lucas; bars of gold and packets of large denomination bills; and almost enough heavy caliber guns and ammunition to supply the army of a banana republic.
Wolff has been called to audit the books of Living Robotics, founded by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) after financial clerk Dana Cummings brought to her boss’s attention a discrepancy in the books. At Wolff’s command, she brings in all the files and materials needed to go through the firm’s complex financial history, but he rejects her offer to help. He runs through dozens of felt-tip markers as he scribbles on the walls and even the room’s windows, series of numbers from the accounts. Working non-stop, he comes up with the solution to the mystery of the missing funds, but its cause is unexpected. And it involves danger to the life of Cummings, as well as his own.
Meanwhile senior Treasury Department Agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) has assigned Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to find out the identity of the shadowy figure that appears in photographs of several international criminals. Using her skills and the vast technical resources of their Department, she discovers that the person of interest is Wolff, and so they start to close in.
There also is another person closing in on them, a ruthless assassin named Brax (Jon Bernthal), hired to eliminate both Cummins and Wolff. For once the latter takes an interest in someone else, perhaps because of their shared love of numbers, and so our flawed hero switches over to an aggressive defender. Brax and his boss employ a small army, but those who have watched the Rambo and Bourne series know that it will take more than a hundred thugs to defeat Wolff.
It is mainly the depiction of Wolff’s autistic behavior that distinguishes this film from the dozens of other one man army films that dominate the megaplex screen each summer and fall. The film stays true to form by refusing to throw Wolff and Cummins into each other’s arms and thence to bed, as would less savvy filmmakers. The violent denouement will be too much for some, but for those who like action thrillers, this one provides an interesting twist. One issue for thought and discussion is the morally ambiguous nature of Wolff. Should we be rooting for such a guy, even though he looks like Ben Affleck? How different is he from the thugs he dispatches right and left in their gun and hand-to-hand fights? Does his deciding to save Amy Cummins’ life bring him some measure of redemption? And, does that last shot set us up for a sequel?
This review with a set of questions will be in the Nov. 2016 issue of VP.