Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
(R, 128 min.)
“You’re different. Sooner or later different scares people.” Father of Chris Wolff
This thriller is like a kaleidoscope. Each turn reveals a completely new image as the same moving parts reconfigure into a different design. Leaving us transfixed, a little confused, perhaps, but utterly enthralled.
The plot is complex and somewhat surreal, but it centers on an autistic math savant who functions as everything from a mild mannered bean counter to an expert assassin to a book fixer for world-wide drug cartels. It stretches credibility even as it compels us on screen. Autistic accountant assassins are a bit much, we must admit.
Yet somehow we go along for the ride. Even my husband, who suffers neither fools nor poor films gladly, admitted with a guilty grin that he had enjoyed the film. Maybe part of the reason lies in some of the scenes that ground the characters.
Chris Wolff’s (Ben Affleck) backstory is retold in flashbacks. Flashbacks seem to be overused right now, as they were in Girl on the Train, with a swirling timeline that ranged from days to months to years and involved three different characters. But here they work fairly smoothly, usually interrupting the current events when a particular memory from Chris's youth is relevant.
One of the best is Chris helping a poor older couple who face a huge tax liability. He asks the women if she has made the necklace she is wearing.
“Oh, do you like it?” she replies.
“No, not particularly,” our socially awkward accountant tells her. He sees the necklace as something else. A small business. Yes, she has sold a few of them.
“Where do you make them?” he queries.
“Oh, anywhere in the house,” she replies, but her more savvy husband soon gets the drift and suggests the dining room is her “home office.” And carefully watching the accountant’s thumbs up gesture, he gradually adjusts its square footage upward until he gets an affirming nod. Now, assassin or not, how can any tax paying drudge not love this guy?
Other scenes are with Chris as a youngster as he learns to fight for himself in a cruel world. In Indonesia with his soldier father, he and his brother learn martial arts. After a particularly brutal session, the kindly instructor wants to call it quits, but the father insists they continue, and the boys gladly comply. They are both tough cookies, even if their expertise at that point leaves something to be desired.
Yet another interesting and somewhat mysterious relationship is with a very old man in what appears to be a prison cafeteria. The older guy coaches Chris to maintain eye contact and works with him on his voice inflection as well. Almost like a political operative trying humanize a candidate.
But the relationship that grounds the film is between Chris and another accountant, Dana (Anna Kendrick). It is she who has found a glitch in the books of a very successful robotics company and Chris is called in the ferret it out.
Dana is just the right blend between cute and nerdy, kind of a glamorized version of someone from The Big Bang Theory television show. She tries to make conversation with the new temporary hire, but he rebuffs her into silence. It’s almost as if she is socially awkward as well, though, and does not completely process these signals to stay away.
Dana again talks to Chris when she sees him eating his lunch outside. Their conversation is like an awkward date where both parties power through the discomfort. She makes fun of her accountant dad’s nerdy pocket protector only to have Chris proudly display his. And when Chris transforms the glass enclosed office walls into life-sized ledgers, she shares his excitement. She gasps in awe at every red-circled error as he points them out to her like a lady cheering on her jousting knight.
J.K. Simmons, who you will probably recognize from his Farmer Insurance commercials, if not from his Oscar winning performance in 2014's Whiplash, plays Ray King a U.S Treasury official on Chris’s tail. He pressures a young analyst (Cynthia Adai-Robinson) to join him in finding out the accountant’s true identity. Her work to find him involves finding a deep meaning in his many aliases, an intellectual search that is riveting in itself.
And then there is the sly assassin who more or less persuades his hits to commit suicide and a bloody mafia-style killing spree that puts The Godfather to shame.
And somehow, all these threads coalesce, more or less, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and settle in for a neat little ending that ties everything together at last.
You know you are being played, of course, but a very compelling Ben Affleck cooks the books like a master chef.
As you might notice in the trailer, Christian Wolff, our accountant, seems to have the same breakfast every day – fried eggs, bacon, and toast. And their arrangement on his plate must be just so. That is part of what he describes as his high functioning autism.
Well, somehow I couldn’t get too excited about a recipe for fried eggs and bacon, so I am opting to take something from Indonesia, where, as an army brat, Chris learned martial arts.
These Indonesian Fried Noodles are also called Mie Goreng. This version uses chicken.
I have another version I got from a delightful chef in Singapore that uses thick yellow noodles and mutton. You might enjoy it as well.
Indonesian Fried Noodles
"This tasty noodle dish is the same one my mom used to make for me when I was growing up. It's definitely comfort food. You can alter it with adding your favorite meats and veggies." –Felicia R
3 (3 ounce) packages ramen noodles (without flavor packets)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into strips
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 pinch ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sweet soy sauce (Indonesian kecap manis)
1/4 cup oyster sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pan of water to a boil, and cook the ramen until tender, about 3 minutes. Plunge the noodles into cold water to stop the cooking, drain in a colander set in the sink, and drizzle the noodles with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Set aside.
Place the chicken strips in a bowl, and toss with olive oil, garlic salt, and black pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok over high heat, and cook and stir the chicken until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shallots and garlic, and cook and stir until they start to turn brown. Add the cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms, and cook and stir until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the ramen noodles, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and oyster sauce, mixing the noodles and sauces into the vegetables and chicken. Bring the mixture to a simmer, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot.