The Accountant Directed By Ray McKinnon
So which film did you pick in the office Oscars pool? Personally, I was pulling for Copy Shop (I’m a sucker for experimental fun), but The Accountant was certainly a worthy recipient — even has a timely message.
What, you say you’ve never heard of Copy Shop or The Accountant? You’re only vaguely aware of the “Best Live Action Short” award? Well, to be honest, that’s one of the category’s saving graces. Shorts, more often than not, operate under the media’s radar. And though that hardly guarantees quality, it often encourages genuine risk-taking. (Whatever its modest virtues, A Beautiful Mind is decidedly safe.) Even when re-working familiar materials, shorts inevitably reflect the quirks and peculiarities of their creators — to wit, director Ray McKinnon’s darkly comic debut featurette The Accountant.
Burdened by seemingly insurmountable financial obligations, Tommy and David O’Dell face the grim prospect of losing the family farm. In a final act of desperation, they enlist the services of a “mysterious stranger,” the titular accountant (played by McKinnon). This backwoods shaman is sketched in broad, eccentric strokes: an unrepentant chain smoker with an insatiable thirst for PBR, a quaint mystic conjuring minute private details from simple “facts and figgers.”
Yet even as the accountant’s machine-gun verbiage gradually seduces the brothers, his personal vision threatens to swallow the narrative whole. With insurance fraud posited as some unholy marriage of performance art and industry standards, he details a series of potential “solutions” with matter-of-fact candor: arson, self-mutilation (both legs and an arm should cover the shortfall) and inevitably, murder.
As we soon learn, the accountant has his own quixotic agenda, “to save a way of life.” Driven by an unrelenting, omnivorous hunger, “Hollywood, Wall Street and Boston Market” greedily devour our regional cultures, only to resell their spoils later in pre-processed, deracinated units. Tommy and David are unwitting foot-soldiers in an increasingly dire struggle against corporate-abetted extinction.
And here’s where the story gets interesting…and complicated. Among their many notable merits, shorts also function as de facto marketing vehicles. McKinnon has penned three feature-length scripts and has several others in development, yet still no suitors. In effect, The Accountant is a (relatively) inexpensive portfolio showcasing his “distinctive” riff on southern culture to prospective Hollywood buyers — the outsider’s not-so-secret pursuit of the insider brass ring. With its verbal affectations, clean-scrubbed good ol’ boys and iconic shorthands (age-old Chevy truck, faithful dog Lucky), the film merely offers yet another reductionist portrait of the South.
Mind you, McKinnon’s no fool. He’s no doubt aware of his project’s inherent contradictions, and the film indirectly acknowledges its treacherous ideological footing. As the accountant’s increasingly intricate plans unfold, irony builds on irony; double-dealing and subterfuge emerge. Of course, after a decade of Coens, Tarantino and Mamet, this represents oft-traveled pomo terrain — which McKinnon’s script unfortunately does little to enliven or enrich. Early on, the accountant questions Billy Bob Thornton’s authenticity, humorously shattering the brothers’ cherished illusions. But ultimately, the actor’s “realness” and “roots” are immaterial; once Thornton entered the entertainment establishment, his persona, by necessity, became a construct.
That said, The Accountant does benefit from another rarely acknowledged advantage of shorts; their brevity and novelty tend to encourage critical leniency, if not indulgence. So despite its flaws, McKinnon’s “farm comedy” delivers an engaging, intermittently incisive 30-plus minutes. But as an evident screenwriting vehicle, the film finally gets over on visuals — specifically, Blake Britton Jackson’s crisply detailed cinematography and Chris Jones’ evocatively minimalist set design. Bracketed by near-perfect alt-country keepsakes, Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s rendition of “Mack The Knife” and Michael Hurley’s “I Paint A Design”, the film’s widescreen vistas effortlessly capture all the mystery, menace, play and sense of place that seem to elude McKinnon’s script. Sometimes intangibles are best expressed in intangibles. Ginny Mule Pictures.