Whiplash

The Accountant

In life, I’ve found that it’s fine to have preferences, but that you should remain open-minded. You just never know when your tastes may change. I used to prefer Matt Damon to Ben Affleck. Comparisons between the two have been inevitable, as they’re best friends who emerged on the Hollywood scene in tandem. Damon always seemed to be the superior actor, and I still think that holds true. However, I don’t like Matt Damon as much as I once did. And Affleck lately has just seemed…cooler. The Accountant looked like a smart action thriller, and I was drawn in by the titular character’s backstory. Unfortunately, it was just an average movie, and my mini-streak of duds continues.

Affleck (Batman v. Superman) stars as Christian Wolff, an accountant with the uncanny ability to crunch numbers better than a calculator. He has a beautiful mind, one that is suited perfectly for his chosen profession. Through flashback we learn that Christian was born with a high functioning form of autism that gifts him with amazing intellectual abilities while rendering him socially inept. His father refuses to coddle him, teaching him instead to defend himself to the literal death through relentless combat and martial arts training. His compulsive need to finish tasks lends itself well to this borderline abusive instruction. Fast forward to present day, and Christian’s unique upbringing and skill set have led to a lucrative career “uncooking” the books for some of the world’s most notorious criminal enterprises.

If you consort with international criminals, chances are you won’t go unnoticed for long. Eventually Christian draws the attention of Treasury Agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons, Whiplash) who pinpoints his identity with the help of junior agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Arrow). When Christian lands a high-level corporate client, the Feds become even more invested in his activities, and King and Medina turn up the heat. Working alongside young accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), Christian becomes entangled in a web of danger in the pursuit of millions of missing dollars for their mysterious new client. Soon their lives are in jeopardy, but who’s calling the shots?

I enjoyed the sight of Affleck stomping his way through would-be foes shocked that a pencil pusher was kicking their ass. However, the plot was a muddled mess. My need for things to make sense wouldn’t let me ignore the seemingly pointless series of events that were strung together and called a storyline. Although the plot strengthened the film in its establishment of Christian’s backstory, it faltered miserably as the movie wore on, and any “twists” fell woefully short. Affleck was effective for the most part, though his performance could easily be panned as a caricature. Jon Bernthal (Sicario) makes an appearance, and though his presence usually enhances a film, here it was just more evidence of a poor storyline. Wait for this one on Redbox. Grade: C+

War Dogs

People often say that money is the root of all evil. False. The love of money is the root of all evil. I actually enjoy the tales of the wealthy, if for nothing more than the aspirational motivation I get from seeing a world I normally couldn’t witness. Whether it’s Wall Street or The Big Short, tales of the perils of wealth and excess fascinate me, and I love the story of a good “come up.” When I saw the trailer for War Dogs, which was inspired by true events, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn how these upstarts cornered the market on international arms dealing.

Miles Teller (Fantastic Four) and Jonah Hill (Sausage Party) star as best friends David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli. The year is roughly 2006, and David is disenchanted with life. He can’t hold a steady job and is eking out a living as a masseuse. When he reconnects with Efraim, his old friend hasn’t changed a bit. He’s as obnoxious as ever, but seems to be doing well for himself. He started out buying seized illegal firearms from law enforcement and reselling them online. He’s moved on to small government contracts, selling weapons and ammunition to the U.S. government. One would think the world’s greatest military wouldn’t need to resort to buying small amounts of weaponry from individual gun purveyors, but blame the cronyism of the Bush Administration. Amidst allegations of nepotism against Dick Cheyney, Congress introduced legislation requiring the government to entertain offers from small companies. War is big business, and Efraim is cashing in.

He offers David a role in his company, and the pair embarks on a new course beset by dangerous greed. They attack the gun-running business with tenacious fervor, undeterred in the pursuit of lucrative government contracts. Efraim doesn’t mind playing fast and loose with the law if it keeps the money flowing, and David acquiesces. When trade legislation threatens a deal to export beretta handguns from Italy to the Middle East, the “war dogs” drive the guns through hostile territory themselves. Hill is superb as the brash, rotund Diveroli, delivering a performance reminiscent of his role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Efraim is the loveable asshole, and Hill infused his interpretation with quirks that made the character feel real.

Teller is serviceable as Packouz, though not as impressive as his co-star. I find his performances somewhat uneven, but his work in films such as Whiplash evinces great ability. Darker characters tend to be more nuanced and complex, and so Jonah Hill had more to work with, in many respects. His character’s duplicity allowed for a more layered performance, compared to Teller’s. Nevertheless, both actors had an abundance of chemistry and played to each other’s strengths. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) is a master at capturing the fraternal dynamic between friends, and that ability is on display here. You can’t help but root for David and Efraim, yet that feeling is tempered by the clear white male American privilege from which they both benefitted, all while nearly running afoul of the law. War Dogs was insightful and entertaining, due in large part to an entertaining, compelling story and an anchoring turn from Jonah Hill. Grade: A-