Ben Affleck plays the title role in the thriller The Accountant. “Like, a CPA accountant?” asks a Treasury Department worker. “Not quite,” replies agent Ray King (J. K. Simmons) in what might be the understatement of the year.
Affleck is a pocket-protector-wearing forensic accountant who “risks his life cooking the books for some of the scariest people on the planet; drug cartels, arms brokers, money launderers, assassins.” An autistic math genius with a violent side, he survives his dangerous world through dual facilities for math and mayhem.
“He’s a very distinct and unusual character,” Affleck told Entertainment Weekly. “A little bit different than your average, everyday person in the way he processes information and social thinking, and the way he sees numbers and logic, and that he’s trapped a little bit in his own mind.”
Affleck joins a long list of actors who have looked for loopholes, legal, financial and otherwise, on the big screen.
The late, great Gene Wilder became a star playing bookkeeper Leo Bloom in The Producers. “I spend my life counting other people’s money. People I’m smarter than.” It’s Bloom who comes up with the get rich quick scheme to mount a terrible Broadway musical and make off with the investor’s cash when the show flops. His plan falls apart when Springtime for Hitler becomes a hit but his business partner still has good things to say. “You’re an accountant,” raves Max Bialystock. “You’re in a noble profession! The word ‘count’ is part of your title!”
Rick Moranis played Louis Tully, an accountant possessed by an ancient spirit in Ghostbusters. Before he goes all supernatural Louis throws a bash to celebrate his fourth anniversary as an auditor at his swanky Central Park West apartment. “I’m givin’ this whole thing as a promotional expense,” he says, “that’s why I invited clients instead of friends.” The scene was shot in one continuous take with Moranis making his way through the party, improvising perfectly nerdy CPA dialogue—“This is real smoked salmon from Nova Scotia, Canada, $24.95 a pound! It only cost me $14.12 after tax, though.”—throughout.
In The Untouchables Charles Martin Smith plays Oscar Wallace, the bespectacled book balancer who puts together the tax evasion case against notorious mobster Al Capone. The character was largely based on Frank Wilson, the IRS Criminal Investigator who spent years keeping tabs on Capone’s financial dealings before laying charges. A self-penned article on his exploits, He Trapped Capone, inspired the 1949 Glenn Ford film The Undercover Man.
Cher initially turned down the Oscar winning role of Loretta Castorini, the widowed accountant in Moonstruck who falls for a one-handed baker. Though exhausted from one of the busiest years of her career, she ultimately took the part, showing up on set just one day after wrapping The Witches of Eastwick. When Moonstruck was done she took a week off before shooting the courtroom drama Suspect. The singer-turned-actress later called making the film, “too silly, too much fun to be work,” and became only the second female performer, alongside Barbra Streisand, to have a #1 hit and an Oscar.
Bloom, Tully, Wallace and Castorini are reel life bookkeepers, but in real life several actors almost chose figures over fame. Bob Newhart worked the ledger books for United States Gypsum and Eddie Izzard studied accountancy at the University of Sheffield.
Synopsis: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opened this week bringing confident but thick news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) back to the big screen after a nine year absence. The first film made catchphrases like, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch,” and the names Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champion “Champ” Kind (David Koechner) household words. In celebration of the return of the team from San Diego’s KVWN Channel 4 the Reel Guys have a look back at the career of funnyman Will Ferrell.
Richard: Mark, I think Will Ferrell is one of the bravest comedic actors working today; someone willing to do anything for a laugh. Trouble is, I often don’t laugh. Anchorman is laugh-out-loud funny. Ditto Elf and Old School, but sometimes I feel he has to rein the manic energy in, do half as much and maybe be twice as funny. Having said that, the Shark Week jokes in Step Brothers really make me giggle.
Mark: Richard, I share your ambivalence toward Ferrell. He’s not my go-to guy for funny. Still, he’s done some great work. My favourite Will Ferrell movies are two indie films he’s starred in: Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go. They’re the equivalent of Jim Carrey’s work in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Maybe not huge crowd pleasers, but they show the true breadth of his talent.
RC: I agree. I think Stranger Than Fiction is worth a rental. It’s touching and funny, which for me is Ferrell’s sweet spot. A Night at the Roxbury is a silly comedy but Ferrell’s wide-eyed performance is the kind of thing I like from him. Outrageous, yes, but underneath the silly is a real guy. Sometimes I can’t see the real guy underneath his characters and those are his movies that don’t work for me. Except Zoolander. As fashion guru Mugatu he’s so strange he dares you not to laugh at him.
MB: Yes, he’s sometimes better in a supporting role in which his over-the-top zaniness doesn’t sink the whole picture. Mugatu for sure, but also the mattress salesman in The Internship or Franz in The Producers. But generally, I find his man-child jock character wearying. Which is why, I think, Anchorman is such a successful movie. It’s a Will Ferrell movie for people who don’t care for Will Ferrell movies. Did you enjoy the sequel, Richard?
RC: I did. I think there is a lot of life left in Ron Burgundy. It’s funny in an outrageous way. It’s a bit too long, (and don’t bother sitting through to the post credit scene unless you find the sight of Steve Carell eating cookies hilarious) but the buffoonery level is high in a season where serious drama seems to be the ticket.
In the last couple of weeks I have seen Ferrell, in character, sit in on some local newscasts and he fit right in. As long as there is media, egomaniac announcers and local news, there will be a place for Ron Burgundy.
MB: Yes, but let’s not forget he’s supported by a stellar cast of comic actors: Paul Rudd, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Wiig. Even if Ferrell isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to believe this movie won’t work.
It’s re-make a rama at the multi-plex this week. Kong is still doing big business and two other retreads are joining it on theatre marquees. The Producers started life as a very funny film by Mel Brooks starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. Thirty years later a musical version of the story of the worst play ever mounted on the Great White Way helped revitalize the real-life Broadway. Unfortunately I don’t think the film version of The Producers will work the same magic in movie theatres and reverse the slump that theatres chains have been experiencing this year.
Fans of the stage version of The Producers will be pleased to have a faithful adaptation of the musical, starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and several of the original Broadway cast, but stage and film are two different mediums, a fact that seems to be lost on director Susan Stroman. As a choreographer Stroman has a shelf full of Tony awards and has worked at the very highest levels on Broadway. As a film director she is a great choreographer. Her film version of the play feels like she simply pointed a camera at the stage and yelled action. There is little effort made to open the film up and take it outside the proscenium arch. When the movie does stray from the box-like confines of the stage we get our best sequences—a chorus line of elderly women on walkers in Central Park and a lavish production number for Broderick’s “I Want to be a Producer” number.
Lane and Broderick bring considerable charm and energy to their roles, but it feels like they are playing to the back of the house rather than to a camera. Ironically, The Producers, a story so rooted in the tradition of Broadway, would have benefited from a more Hollywood treatment.