Affleck, Autism, and ‘The Accountant’

A serious 'numbers savant' turns deadly killer in this thriller

Ben Affleck is swapping his Batsuit for a business suit in new movie “The Accountant,” opening today. The film, featuring Affleck as a savant/sniper, will showcase autism in a completely new killer light, even igniting chatter of a second Academy Award for the longtime actor.

The movie isn’t the first to highlight the neurodevelopmental disorder, as other notables such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” Sean Penn’s “I Am Sam,” and Dustin Hoffman’s classic “Rain Man,” among others, have acknowledged it.

The actor found it considerably challenging to fully embrace his character.

To this day, autism is considered to be one of the most prevalent complex brain conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM), an estimated “1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).”

In the film, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a mathematical savant, possessing uncanny skills that have led to the demise of a handful of the world’s most dangerous cons. It also stars “Whiplash” star J.K. Simmons and “Pitch Perfect” actress Anna Kendrick.

When Wolff gets close to unveiling an advanced robotics company disparity involving millions of dollars, the death toll surrounding it increases rapidly. The action crime drama is not only expected to dethrone “Girl on the Train” at the box office, but also cause controversy in the autism community.

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At MyAutism.org, a statement mentions that the group is has “concerns” about the movie, worrying that this portrayal could lead to a misleading stereotype about all individuals on the autism spectrum.

“Any opportunity to shine a light on this world is important,” Ernie Merlan, executive director of Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational center for young adults on the autism spectrum in Sherman Oaks, California, told USA Today. “My only concern is that this is a Hollywood shoot-’em-up like we’re used to, but this time it’s a protagonist who has autism, with guns.”

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Ahead of “The Accountant’s” release, Affleck and director Gavin O’Connor — mostly known for his work on Colin Farrell’s “Pride and Glory” — have both been adamant about addressing the movie’s sensitive topic.

While Affleck, 44, has done his fair share of films over the decades, the actor still found it considerably challenging to fully embrace his “numbers savant” character.

“Something like putting on an expressionless mask. It was a real challenge, but also an honor to play him. I hadn’t read an autistic character in a film script like this,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Affleck also admitted that he took on a ton of homework in order to absorb the necessary knowledge to fully embrace the forensic assistant’s mannerisms. “I met with a lot of people and did a lot of research and read a lot of material so that I could deliver a portrayal that was as realistic and plausible as possible.”

While Affleck was well-prepared for his part, O’Connor told Empire Magazine that he’s still unsure about how the ASD community will react to “The Accountant’s” depiction of the disorder.

“I’m terrified … I’m honestly terrified. Any time you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter, someone’s going to take issue, and that’s okay. We wanted to make sure we got this right.”

Despite the director’s reservations, he genuinely does have a place in his heart for Affleck’s character, whom he feels is being introduced to audiences at a prime time for outside-the-box filmmaking.

“I fell in love with Christian. This awkward guy who possesses one of the most extraordinary mathematical intellects in the world. I think it’s a good time to be different. Different is a really good thing.”

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