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Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant has been called a prospective superhero franchise for neuroatypical people, which isn't completely inaccurate; the main character, played by Ben Affleck with great attention to body language and affective detail, is a man who currently calls himself Christian Wolff. Like the title suggests, he's a mathematical prodigy who specializes in forensic accounting, balancing the books and tracking money leaks for a great many criminal organizations, some of whom try to get rid of him afterwards (or, on occasion, halfway through). That's when the specialized training his PsyOps Colonel father gave him and his younger brother Braxton tends to click in, especially since Chris has always had a thing about "finishing."

Halfway through, I came to the conclusion that Colonel Dad actually had been a pretty "good" father in his own hard-ass way, since he definitely managed to give the adult version of Chris enough coping skills to negotiate his way successfully through a life many neurotypicals would find impossible to survive. Nevertheless, watching young Chris get the crap beaten out of him all around the world by various martial arts experts is at least as painful as watching adult Chris "relax" at the end of every day by blasting death metal and watching a flickering light for exactly one hour one minute while tenderizing his own calf muscles with a hardwood stick and allowing traumatic memories to wash over him in perfect emotional detail. It reminded me of how I had to train myself not to "feel" my own past mistakes anymore in order to simply move forward, not get caught in an endless loop of shame and rage--and wow, so I hope Cal doesn't process things the same way, though it's naturally impossible for me to tell if he does or doesn't.

The actual plot of The Accountant is a pleasantly odd mishmash of classic age Vertigo comic-book whackadoodliness. Chris end up in jail after he and his Dad foolishly decide to attend the funeral of his mother, who left them when Chris was in his early teens, and get into a funeral home brawl with her second family which leaves the Colonel dead. Chris gets thrown into a military prison, then transferred to a "normal" facility after the Army loan him out to the Treasury Department to check the numbers on a Mafia money laundering scheme, which is where he meets the old Mob accountant who'll be his mentor in the ways of cleaning dirty money (Jeffrey Tambor), as well as the first person to quiz him about facial expressions and vocal emphasis. ("Frustrated. You're frustrated." "You got it, son.") After this man is released without protection and murdered, Chris escapes, kills the Mob family who killed him, then sets about what's been his task ever since: analyzing his clients' ways of doing business from the inside, before turning them over to the Treasury Department via an agent he could have killed but didn't (J.K. Simmons, brilliant as usual).

Naturally, there are even more twists coming--Chris falls in what's probably a form of love with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the junior accountant who notices something wrong with the books at a robotics firm, after he's brought in the quantify exactly what she might have tripped across. The moment I knew I was on board with this particular version of the Magical Autistic Person trope--though really, Chris and his mostly unseen partner aren't really all that magical, in context--was when she told him her Dad thought Dogs Playing Poker was the height of art, to which Chris replies: "I like Dogs Playing Poker because dogs would never make bets on anything, so it's incongruous." I paused the DVD, went over and knocked on the bathroom door so I could tell Steve: "The Accountant is a real-life Drax the Destroyer." And then there's the other freelance assassin/security expert played by Jon Bernthal who we keep seeing in the movie's background, the guy brought in to deal with Dana and Chris after they get too deep into the mystery of where the money's coming from, rather than going to...

Anyhow. I'm annoyed to discover most critics slagged this one, though happy to note it has an audience rating of A at Rotten Tomatoes, as well as having made almost $150 million domestically. It deserves both.

Gotham, OTOH, starts like a cross between a Ring Lardner anecdote and a Twilight Zone episode. It's archaically pulpy, so much so that it's a big surprise when we see P.I. Eddie Mallard (Tommy Lee Jones) working on a Rubik's cube alone in his office ("I can't afford more modern toys," he tells his intemperate landlord, when pressed for the missing rent cheque). Still, this only makes sense, considering it was written and directed by Lloyd Fonvielle, who turns out to have also written the screen story for The Mummy (1999), the screenplays for The Bride (1985) and The Lords of Discipline (1983), and the idea for Good Morning Babylon (1987), in which two Italian stoneworkers end up coming to America and designing the sets for a section of D.W. Griffiths's Intolerance, constructing the Babylon whose ruins can still be found in the California desert outside of what used to be Hollywoodland.

So we begin with rich asshole Charlie Brand sitting alone in a bar, killing a bottle of scotch and explaining to the bartender how he manipulated Eddie into taking on a fairly insane case: find Charlie's ex-wife Rachel Carlyle Rand (Virginia Madsen), who Charlie says has been pursuing him around New York, and tell her to leave him alone. Problem is, as even Charlie admits, Rachel's been dead for the last ten years--drowned in a boating accident on her birthday and buried naked wearing only the jewels she'd extorted out of Charlie over the years in exchange for her sexual favors, at least until Charlie had her quietly dug up and said jewels repossessed. Now she's back, possibly pissed off by his cheapness or just jealous he's still alive, a malignly gorgeous vision in black, white and blonde--Madsen at the youngest I've ever seen her, skin perfect and with eyes like slightly protuberant blue jewels, her often-naked body flawlessly, juicily palpable.

At first, Eddie simply assumes this is some weird rich people game Charlie and Rachel are playing with each other, especially when he's first introduced to her directly: full daylight, with Charlie right across the street and Rachel coolly flirtatious, holding Eddie up for a drink "somewhere expensive" before she'll even deny she knows his client. "There's nothing fair about me, Eddie," she warns him. "I start the game off owning Boardwalk and Park Place, and everybody pays." Soon enough, however, she's approaching him through a sheet of street-steam at twilight to apologize for pretending to be hard-boiled, walking him home arm in arm; they pause to listen to a homeless man sing "Oh Danny Boy" over a trashcan fire and the camera simply plants itself over Madsen's face, watching her remember that's a song narrated by another dead woman, but one who at least died knowing she was loved.

Rachel Carlyle: If we stop right here, we'll have all the best of it straight. It will never get mixed up with anything else, and we'll just have the best of each other.
Eddie Mallard: You'll have to tell me your whole name, so I can say it to myself when I'm walking around.
Rachel Carlyle: Rachel Carlyle. Rachel Carlyle. I live at 330 Central Park West. Ah, no, no. See, it's already getting dumb and practical and stupid. You don't want my phone number. You just want to look at me. Look at your beautiful ghost, and see the way she's looking at you, and then you want to close your eyes, while she walks out of your life, and if she never comes back again, you won't care, because it's not about that. It's about what you saw when she looked at you, and the feel of her lips for the first time, and the scent of her and the way her hair felt, and the way she cried at that silly song. And you had the best of her, all the best of her.


Rachel is a humdinger of a ghost in all particulars--a Peter Straub spectre just as likely to put her arms through your window on a rainy night, Cathy from Wuthering Heights style, as she is to suddenly apparate you both up onto a too-high rooftop and dance a samba barefoot towards the edge, closer and closer, until she finally appears to go over. She's a pornographic vision lying naked in moonlight on the dusty floor of her former Park Avenue apartment, or a cold, drowned corpse suddenly discovered inside a walk-in fridge. And for all she's funny and likeable in sunlight, for all she obviously has her reasons, she's still a dead person, a fragment, something well aware of the polluting awfulness she trails behind her. "The dead can't lie, that's what I heard," Eddie asks a friendly Russian Orthodox priest he meets while wandering soul-sick in Central Park. "Is that true?" "Son," the father replies, "ghosts are ghosts. All they DO is lie."

Rachel Carlyle: Whatever they tell you about me is true. I'm worse than you can imagine. But don't ever say you didn't know.
Eddie Mallard: I don't know anything any more. I don't know what I'm doing.
Rachel Carlyle: You chose me. And you'll go on choosing me, as awful as it gets.
Eddie Mallard: Why will I do that?
Rachel Carlyle: Because you love me. Because YOU love ME.


Of the two things which particularly reminded me of sovay while watching Gotham, the first was a fairly amazing scene in which Eddie is suddenly woken in the middle of the night by an apparition of his dead grandfather, who tells him he's brought him that pirate sword Eddie always wanted. "Didn't anyone ever get it for you after I died?" the grandfather asks, to which Eddie replies: "I didn't want it from them, I wanted it from you. You told me you used to be a pirate." "Ah," the ghost replies, with great regret. "That...might not have been true. But here it is, Eddie, I brought it. Do you still want it?" "Yes," Eddie admits, weeping. "Don't take it," his grandfather warns him. The sword makes a reappearance later on, after Rachel really has her hooks in Eddie, at which point he tries to cut his own throat with it.

But the second is the loose OT3 relationship between Eddie, his friend-who's-a-girl Debbie (Denise Stephenson), who'd like to be more but knows she isn't likely to be, and their mutual friend Tim (Kevin Jarre), a reporter for the Post who seems to live his life as much out of time as Eddie does. Both of them are there to support Eddie throughout his ordeal, to harass him about his choice yet back him up in the clinch, and they're the people he ends up with when he's finally cut his way out of the double-cross Charlie and Rachel are trying to trap him in. "This works just as well as a noir as it does as a ghost story," I told Steve, wonderingly; like Sam Spade or Marlowe, Eddie always manages to keep enough of his self-preservation and hustler's instinct about him to realize when he's being maneuvred into a trap, sexual vampirism from beyond the grave or not. He'll emerge with scars, but he WILL emerge, leaving Rachel and Charlie behind, still doomed to have to deal with each other.
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