Script-O-Meter rating: 3
The Premise that is being marketed by the studios goes as follows: “As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.”
Generally speaking, if a writer has problems at the Premise Line, the script will end up either not getting sold or produced. If it does make it to the big screen, perhaps it is because of the lead main character – In this case, Ben Affleck. But there are major problems with this script that not even a famous actor could fix.
In this Premise Line, the math savant is the Hero. What is the Inciting Incident that catapults the Hero into action and conflict? Answer, according to the marketed Premise – He uncooks the books for a new client. This is not a believable “first action” that carries the Hero into the third element of a Premise Line: The Plot summary or End Game. This third element is: The Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise. So, the audience is supposed to believe that because an accountant uncooks books, the body count rises. But why is the Treasury Department juxtaposed with the body count? There is no connection here. The fact that the Hero uncooks books does not make him an assassin.
There are other problems in the Premise Line: The genre of Drama of the Hero’s Back Story is colliding with the genre of Thriller, which entails the Hero being on the run while being pursued. Who is pursuing him? His Opponent(s). But when the IRS comes a-calling, most people would not start assassinating their clients. This Hero is an assassin. Is he an assassin because he evades the Treasury Department? Or is he an assassin because of his violent, abusive, and tragic childhood? That is the Drama element. The two genres are disconnected because the Plot line is so convoluted.
Also, when Thriller combines with Drama, the technical genre should take precedence. So, a linear plot line is the best way to unravel a genre that includes brutal fight scenes. If the branching story shape is employed, the sub-plots take the audience off of the Drive of the Hero. When the Hero is on the run, he engages in immoral acts because of his excessive Drive to get to the Goal.
But with constant flashbacks into the Hero’s Back Story of Autism, instead of moving forward, the audience is pushed backward. And then forward again. This slows down the narrative. In Thriller genre, the Hero moves forward, with at least 10-20 actions to get to his Goal. Another flashback to explain his Back Story moves the audience in the wrong direction.
Drive to get to the Goal brings us to the next problem with “The Accountant.” An accountant has a passive role in society. The irony of the Hero in this film is that he takes an active role. He is a trained assassin. He is using his profession as a cover for his professional hits. Here is where the Drama intercuts with the Thriller: He has some type of mental or neurological problem that is similar to autism. The outward manifestation is that he acts out violently, he is isolated, lacks emotive ability, has border issues, and completion anxiety. An indication of this incongruity is when he says: “I like dogs playing poker because dogs would never bet on things. I like incongruity.” But even this irony cannot carry what is a total mess of structure and plot.
Branching shapes lead the audience in sub-plot, flashback, and intercut from present day violence to childhood violence. He has a brother who is also part of this violent upbringing. The Reveal of the brother is somehow connected with the opening shots of a crime scene. But the brother is a convenient plot mechanism who later appears in the twist ending, with no set up, other than the brother was part of the Hero’s violent childhood.
The Hero’s mother, concerned for his well-being as a child, disappears during his violent adulthood, and then reappears in a coffin when the Hero and his wack-job dad, of course, military dad, show up- The writers want to subliminally tell the audience that the military causes a man to abuse his son. The other subliminal message is that because the boy is some type of autistic person, therefore it must follow that the father needs to toughen him up to the extreme so others won’t turn his son into a victim: The military man must mess with his son’s mind.
A potential love interest sub-plot is thrown in as a catalyst to get this autistic man to emote. He tells the woman that he wants to connect, but he can’t. This is totally unbelievable, and as far as structure goes, the Hero knows what his problem is halfway through the story, so the Drive really lets us down. Are we not smart enough to know an autistic man’s problem- He needs to tell us? In good script writing, as in life, we don’t know solutions to our problems. The audience knows, but the Hero does not. And certainly, an autistic Hero would not know what his problem is – And even if he did – He is autistic, isn’t he? Can he verbalize his problem to a potential love interest?
At home, the Hero’s stereo blasts and he hits himself. Then, he engages in brutal fight scenes. But what is missing here is a plot that shows believable character motivations. We know the Hero is autistic, but there is no believable Goal. We jump back and forth from present day to childhood in the Drama genre, and then the Hero beats someone up and shows how deadly he is with a gun,
compliments of his father.
In addition, the Hero gets to sequester himself in an enclosed cocoon of a room where he madly writes down hundreds of numbers and we hear them in his brain. This seemed like Affleck’s hello to Matt Damon across the archives of Good Will Hunting. What a moment! But the problem in this story is that this numbers scene is the motivation for the Hero’s Goal to be: Hunt down a killer, get
passionate, get tracked in the Thriller genre, shoot with pinpoint accuracy, befriend clients who allow him to shoot on their farm. Unbelievable and disconnected, it gets worse.
The man who heads up the treasury department investigation blackmails a black woman to head up an investigation about mafia murder, in which the Accountant seems somehow connected. The young woman could have done this without being blackmailed. She has no connection to the Hero other than through her sophisticated cyberspace devices. The black woman is successful at her job. But then we are shown her dossier of when she was a criminal. Are we supposed to subliminally believe that successful black women could only get that way if they crawled out of their criminal past? This sub-plot is again taking us off the Drive. The woman has a Self-Revelation moment at the end that is totally disconnected to the Hero.
At the Mid-Point, we get a huge Reveal as to why the Hero acts out. It took an hour into the script though. Very laborious and heavy-handed. The love interest disappears, as we watch the Hero brutalize one opponent after another. Thud, thud, thud. Monotonous, predictable. We are brought back to the opening gun shots, which mixed in the Crime genre. Now we get a Reveal. But it’s the Drama genre Reveal poking its head into the Thriller genre, when the Hero’s pursuer is…oops! Another contrivance so we won’t be confused. Another preachy theme lesson. Then we get another Reveal, totally disconnected, about a voice we have heard? Is it a James Bond female mentor? Is it a bird? No. It’s a character that made a flashback appearance in the beginning of the story and has now returned, 2 hours later- another plot contrivance.
An example of a fix for this script would be to follow a linear form and use flashback to mirror a particularly brutal moment in the autistic Hero’s life as he’s getting ready in the morning for some special interviews: The autistic accountant, with no interpersonal skills, has lit up all the boards for his brilliance, and unknown to him, there are now a lot of interested parties. His cellphone lights up and the requests for his services come in all at once. He’s the man! Three Opponents see in a flash that the Hero is autistic, or has some strange character issues, and they capitalize on this, although they are unaware of the Hero’s violent past. He goes home and has a violent traumatic attack, but then takes medication to calm down.
The crime families encircle him with kudos, money, art treasures, which he stores in a storage facility, in an airstream that is outfitted with a bed and all the comforts that he needs. That is a Reveal of his home life. The Hero is able to regroup and put on an appearance of normalcy. The crime families approach him to take out their opponents. He is reluctant, but they have found out about his “skills” when they invaded his space at home and discovered his arsenal of guns. They tell him that it’s all part of success; it’s part of uncooking the books and eliminating opponents. They reward him with nice toys. He especially is taken in by the shiny objects – The gold bars that look like chocolate bars.
He thinks he’s finally accomplishing something of a career. He uncooks the books of crime families, but all the while, he is being monitored by the Treasury Department and a young assistant, who call in members of the crime families to answer questions. The Accountant’s house is invaded; his special place is looted and he goes ballistic. All of his cash and precious hoardings are gone except
these paintings that still hang on the wall because the thieves were too stupid to know their value. He has another autistic meltdown that almost undoes him, but he now gets a Plan to get back at the crime families for stealing his valuables and taking advantage of him.
He gets another call from a Robotics company that seems to do good deeds for the disabled. They take him on a tour and he meets the potential love interest. He figures out the missing monies, which are tied to the crime families. And the girl also figures it out with him. They are both in danger now. Meanwhile, the IRS young assistant is following his every move. They move in on the girl at the Robotics company.
The crime families move in on the Accountant and so does the Treasury Department. But the black girl knows about the Hero’s past. She shows his dossier to her boss. The crime families think that the Accountant went to the IRS boss and spilled the beans. The crime families are after the Accountant and the IRS boss, who becomes a mentor to the autistic Hero. The Hero has a breakdown along the way, which the IRS boss witnesses. The Hero’s flashback of being brutalized comes back to him when he’s in the middle of a major gun fight, and then he almost gets killed because he hesitates for the first time to go against what his father taught him to do all the time: Kill and fight. This is the lowest point of the story, at Sequence 9, page 85.
Sequence 10 will lead up to planning for a major showdown with the crime families. Sequence 11 is the Climax/Battle. Sequence 12 is the New Equilibrium that the Hero has found and a resolution with the potential love interest. The Hero’s brother, who was a big part of his past, could also enter into this version, but his role would appear at the beginning and then there would be the twist at
the end, when the two of them re-unite after 20 years. Part of that time was when the brother was in prison. He could be part of one of the crime families that set him up and put him away in prison. He came out of prison and went on a secret rampage to get back at the crime families. All of this could come to a head in Sequence 11, the Climax/Battle scene, when the brother gets killed.
It would be very poignant if the Hero, who is autistic and not capable of emoting, does not get a Self-Revelation. Instead, the audience gets the Self-Revelation when the potential love interest receives the mysterious artwork package from the Hero, who is now on the road and smiling about how he could make the love interest happy by giving her something of his that she valued. What the audience sees is that the love interest young woman is the only person in this man’s life who has shown him that what he has is genuinely of value and that he is “of value” himself.