On 1st November 2016, the ACCA invited several members of Kaplan Financial to attend a VIP screening of the new movie, ‘The Accountant’, starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick (from ‘Pitch Perfect’). Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic mathematical genius, who carries out forensic fraud detection for criminals ranging from drug cartels to arms dealers. He conceals his identity from his dangerous clientele behind the cover of a rural CPA (Certified Public Accountant) offering tax advice to local businesses. However, when threatened, the mild-mannered accountant transforms into a Jason Bourne style vigilante, dispensing justice to anyone who violates his moral code.
It’s an entertaining action film with an A-list cast who deliver solid performances. The story progresses at a fairly steady pace with lots of narrative detail interspersed with flashbacks and action sequences. Moments of humour and unexpected plot twists make this a thoroughly enjoyable film to watch.
The actual portrayal of forensic accountancy is limited to the investigation of a million-dollar fraud in a legitimate client, Living Robotics. Dana Cummings uncovers discrepancies in her role as an in-house accountant and brings it to the attention of the Board of Directors. The actual process of uncovering the $61 million embezzlement does illustrate the importance of methodology and painstaking reconciliation between random number payments to fictitious invoices. In that sense, it is realistic although greatly accelerated by Christian being a maths savant. While accountants are noted for discretion and confidentiality, he dramatically writes down numbers on the glass wall of a conference room in a similar portrayal to the maths genius played by Matt Damon in the brilliant 1997 movie, Good Will Hunting. Ironically, the screenplay to this movie was also co-written by Ben Affleck.
With regards to how the film portrays accountancy as a profession, it doesn’t do much to break stereotypes. Both Christian and Dana are seen to be socially awkward and choose to eat their lunch alone in the park whilst wearing pocket protectors. They are made out to be boring individuals more comfortable with numbers than real people. Consequently, they are viewed as easy prey to the villains of the film. The contrast comes when you see Christian switching to lethal sniper armed with anti-aircraft ammunition, making this hugely entertaining escapism for the audience.
For those of you exploring a career in forensic accounting, it’s unlikely to be as glamorous or as dangerous as Christian Wolff finds it. However, the movie does deal with two important relevant issues. The first is money laundering and the use of off-shore companies and hidden assets (such as an original Jackson Pollack painting and first edition comic books worth millions). Secondly, it raises the ethical dilemma faced by whistle-blowers the world over, ‘How do you deal with powerful people who have secrets they want to hide?’ It takes a great deal of courage and personal sacrifice to tell the truth. Fortunately, in Christian’s autistic world there is only black and white, right and wrong. The real world with its shades of grey and the need for compromise and self-preservation is very different.