Ben Affleck, the autistic superhero
* The Accountant (15A, 128mins), 3 Stars
* The Light Between Oceans (12A, 132mins), 3 Stars
* A Street Cat named Bob (12A, 103mins), 3 Stars
Published 05/11/2016 | 07:00
Ever since Dustin Hoffman played a catatonic savant in Barry Levinson's 1988 drama 'Rain Man', autism has been treated by Hollywood as a kind of special power. The sad fact, of course, is that most of the time it's anything but, but they're at it again in The Accountant, a deeply silly but undeniably entertaining thriller starring Ben Affleck as a bean counter with hidden talents.
Treasury Department investigators have been tracking a mysterious American who's been doing the books for hoodlums around the globe, but are getting nowhere. Led by Ray King (JK Simmons), they eventually zone in on Chris Wolff (Mr Affleck), a hack accountant who operates out of a suburban strip mall. Hardly a criminal mastermind, but an agent called Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai Robinson) is convinced he's their man, and sets out to prove it.
She's right, of course. In a series of flashbacks we discover that Chris was severely autistic as a child. His military father decided he needed toughening up, and hired a martial arts expert to kick Chris and his kid brother into shape. As he grew up he learnt how to fit in, kind of, and his flair for maths makes him highly sought after in the underworld. But Chris has his own moral code, and when the CEO of a big tech company hires him to investigate a fraud and then fires him before he can finish, he decides to find out why.
The Accountant is not subtle, and never misses an opportunity to sugar-coat the painful reality of autism. Mr Affleck moves through the film with a constipated look, and a thwarted romantic interlude with Anna Kendrick is so awkward it's kind of fascinating. But the action scenes are pretty good, and as I said it's a bit of a laugh, a guilty pleasure.
Derek Cianfrance's Light Between Oceans is best known around these parts as the film on which Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander met, and looking at their on-screen chemistry it's not hard to see why they got along so well. This beautifully photographed but rather slushy melodrama is based on a novel by ML Stedman and set on a remote Australian island in 1919. Mr Fassbender is Tom Sherbourne, a returning veteran who yearns to be alone.
Lighthouse-keeping sounds like the perfect job, but Tom is on his way to the storm-battered island of Janus Rock when he meets a young woman called Isabel (Ms Vikander). They fall in love, and marry, but her desire for a family is tragically thwarted by a string of miscarriages. Then, fate intervenes, as it only does in melodramas. A lifeboat crashes ashore during a storm, carrying a dead man, and an infant barely alive. Isabel wants to keep it, and pretend it's their child, and though Tom knows it's the wrong thing to do, he can't bear to disappoint her.
Positively Bronte-like in its plotting, The Light Between Oceans drowns one in melancholy music, bleak seascapes and over-neat tragedies. It almost has a Mills & Boon quality, but it's very nice to look at and Fassbender and Vikander are most convincing as the doomed lovers.
And finally a word about A Street Cat named Bob, a charming English film based on the true story of a life-saving love affair between man and moggy. Luke Treadaway is James Bowen, a homeless drug addict and busker whose efforts to kick heroin have all ended in failure until he meets Bob. After a kindly social worker (Joanne Froggatt) finds him a bedsit, a lost ginger tom walks through an open window and into James's heart.
When Bob follows him to work one day, they become a kind of busking double act, and Bob's stern, reproachful gazes encourage James to finally kick the habit. It's a very sweet film, dominated inevitably by the cat, whom I believe is played by Bob himself.