In Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, director Derek Cianfrance utilised an intimate and sometimes claustrophobic aesthetic that brought the viewer close to difficult events both domestic and criminal. With his latest film, Cianfrance combines this intimacy with an epic scale that engulfs the viewer in an overwhelming environment, both visually and narratively. Traumatised war veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) takes a job as a lighthouse keeper in 1918, and begins a relationship with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), which leads to marriage and her joining him on the island of Janus off Australia. Their secret, unofficial adoption of the baby girl leads to a range of tensions both private and public, especially once the child’s actual mother appears in the form of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz). The central clash of the film is between moral duty and pure desire, as Tom is committed to a strict code while Isabel is emotionally guided. Pleasingly, the film does not fall into simplistic gender stereotyping, as the heady emotion of the film as a whole is in keeping with Isabel’s emotion while the expansive scenery feels at odds with Tom’s self-repression. The film makes no judgement about either perspective, but delivers a balanced, intimate and yet sweeping portrayal of a loving relationship lived and felt at every level.
The Accountant is an unbalanced sheet. Gavin O’Connor’s film boasts strong performances, an interesting portrayal of disability and some tough action sequences. It also has no central focus, irritating contrivances and storylines that do not add up. Bill Dubuque’s script is part action-conspiracy thriller, part detective story and part mental health drama. These strands are clumsily interwoven and there are several contrivances that not only stretch credibility but add little to the drama. The detective narrative featuring US Treasury agents Raymond King (J K Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) would have made a strong narrative in its own right, but as it stands sticks out like undeclared earnings. Various characters have unnecessary personal motivations much as in Jason Bourne, suggesting a lack of investment in the drama of people caught up in events beyond their control. This drama is especially relevant in the contemporary era of global interconnection, information and finance, a topic that features in a number of recent films such as The Big Short and The Infiltrator. To underfund such a theme in a film with this subject matter is disappointing.
On the plus side, The Accountant does channel its funds into effective design and atmosphere. DOP Seamus McGarvey gives the film an often bleak appearance, while production designer Keith P. Cunningham creates environments of sleek functionality. As the eponymous book keeper with shady connections, Ben Affleck blends roles of his friend Matt Damon, as Christian Wolff has mental health issues and deadly skills like Jason Bourne and mathematical genius like Will Hunting. Affleck’s hunched physical performance, muted tones and expressions express someone cut off from much of the world. Flashbacks explain his character and family history, while his relationship with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the naive young accountant who stumbles into his world, is charming and effective. The film’s portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes falls into the trap of presenting an unusual mental state as a superpower, rather than a distinctive perspective. This perspective leads to the film’s most arresting moment, as Wolff peruses decades’ worth of accounting records before explaining his findings to Cummings with an animation not seen elsewhere. O’Connor creates a palatable sense of excitement and energy in Wolff’s forensic accounting, which is odd when other sequences feature blistering action. This suggests a more satisfying film might have been a true economic thriller. As it is, the film returns only partially on its investment, leaving the viewer wanting a greater return.
Inferno is an awkward beast. The plot of Dan Brown’s novel is the stuff of popcorn thrillers – race against time, huge stakes, mismatched protagonists, enemies both individual and institutional – but as with previous Brown adaptations, the unique selling point is the art history and symbology that Professor Robert Langdon periodically exposits about. Squeezing multiple references to Dante’s Inferno, along with various other works of art, as well as a multitude of scientific data and personal dramas to boot, into a taut thriller is therefore a tall order. Unfortunately, director Ron Howard and screenwriter David Koepp flounder in this adaptation of an already overstuffed novel. Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with head trauma and amnesia, before he and Doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) go on the run from gun-toting enemies. Various groups with mysterious motives pursue them, a deranged billionaire recently committed suicide, and there are three different Infernos. One is the epic poem, rendered in various forms; another is the McGuffin that everyone wants to find; the third appears in Langdon’s apocalyptic hallucinations that have the aura of visions. These sit uncomfortably with the high tech used by the pursuers, who despite this equipment are thwarted by trees and people running. Character motivations are skimmed over with little concern for coherence, consistency or clarity, the action sequences are unnecessarily melodramatic and, despite its pursuit element, the film lacks pace as many of the great plot revelations appear at moments when everyone else has just happened to slow down. Only Irrfan Khan emerges unscathed, his dry wit injecting some much needed levity into proceedings that are otherwise overblown yet ponderous. I could be more annoyed by the film, but frankly it doesn’t seem worth it. Everyone involved can do better, and hopefully will do next time.