Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Accountant

“The Birth of a Nation” and “Deepwater Horizon” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

January may be the doldrums for new releases at the cineplexes (cuz yeah, we were all clamoring for another overly slick, CGI-shock inducing “Underworld” movie), but that is not the case for your living room. This is the time to check out the great movies that were overlooked in theatres on their initial release, and are absolutely worth the time and money to give them a watch. “The Accountant” is one of these movies.

“The Accountant” stars Ben Affleck as math savant Christian Wolff. He runs a modest one man accounting firm in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield, IL, in which he helps the occasional customer from getting screwed over by the IRS.

But that’s just the surface. As we soon find out from chief Treasury Department investigator Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and his protégé Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Wolff is a known accomplice to drug dealers, terrorists, gun runners, and mobsters all over the world. He assists them in their book keeping and is handsomely rewarded for his services.

Wolff is so good with numbers that not only can he handle secretive book keeping with the utmost discretion, he also has a skill for “uncooking” the books. When a junior accountant at a prosthetic limb agency named Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) discovers a discrepancy, Wolff is called in to uncover where the fault lies. When his uncovering causes the death of the close friend of the company’s owner and founder (John Lithgow), the investigation is abruptly stopped, sending the obsessive Wolff into a tailspin.

It also sets in motion a series of deadly events in which armed gunmen led by hitman Brax (Jon Bernthal) set out to kill Christian and Dana for what they know. Oh yeah—this movie isn’t all number crunching and writing on dry erase boards. In flashbacks we see young Christian struggling with the effects of his mental condition, such as the aforementioned obsession with finishing everything. We also see how his military father (Robert C. Treveiler) taught him and his brother (Jake Presley) how to fight, be tough, and survive. So it should be no shock that someone with such a background is proficient in hand to hand combat and knows how to handle a multitude of firearms.

“The Accountant” is the rare action/adventure movie that has a brain and doesn’t seek to insult its audience with ludicrous nonsense. Before movies were termed as “action” they were essentially considered dramas that had action beats. That’s how this movie feels. The interplay between the characters is well written and expertly acted—a heart wrenching moment from J.K. Simmons really sticks with me—and when the time is right and the situation dramatically (not forcibly or formulaically) calls for it, a swift and smartly staged action sequence commences.

Not to say that the movie is perfect. There are some events that take place in Dana’s apartment that I can’t help but wonder how she explained to the landlord, plus there is a big twist at the end that to me was fairly obvious and I guessed about half an hour in. Still, there is never a dull moment in “The Accountant.” The story unfolds at a brisk pace and information is doled out at just the right increments. There is also a wonderful subtext about fathers and the important role they play in their children’s lives, which is great to see. Far from being cliché, the movie reaches a satisfying and realistic ending. With nothing much going on at the cineplexes, “The Accountant” is worth the time to stay in and watch on a lazy January day. Buy it on Amazon: The Accountant (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Ultraviolet).

Also New This Week

The Birth of a Nation

Many movies that are completely unrelated have the same exact title. Usually that’s because the title is something generic and uninspired. The title “The Birth of a Nation” is a different story. The original, controversial, landmark silent film from 1915 by D.W. Griffith is about the Civil War, Restoration, Lincoln’s assassination, and the rise of the Ku Klu Klan as saviors of the south. With his 2016 version of “The Birth of a Nation,” about Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion, director Nate Parker (who also stars as Turner) seeks to claim the title so that it’s in conjunction with something anti-slavery, rather than pro-KKK like the original. It’s a fair effort at best, and it falls flat.

First and foremost the movie is boring. The first hour and twenty minutes of this two-hour movie is Turner growing up and working on a plantation. Some interesting things happen here and there, such his father (Dwight Henry) getting into trouble and disappearing, or when he first meets his future wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King), but those moments are few and short lived. What we mostly get is people sitting around and yammering about a whole lot of nothing, and it drags. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impatient to have a movie hit its theme and get to the point.

Turner is one of the few slaves who is actually literate, so he reads the Bible and becomes a preacher. He gets so good that other plantations pay his master Samuel (Armie Hammer) to have Turner preach to their slaves. Samuel, as a character, is painfully frustrating. We first see him and Nat as young boys playing in the yard with each other like they’re friends. Then through the course of the movie, he becomes a nasty drunk who barely treats Nat any better than the rest of the slaves. There are moments in “The Birth of a Nation” in which Samuel seems repulsed by the way other plantation owners treat their slaves. Yet he says nothing, does nothing, and when all is said and done he isn’t much better than them. What caused this transformation? The movie doesn’t bother to tell us. Taking the attitude of white slave owner = bad only works if said slave owner is always bad from the start. We plainly see in the beginning that this is not the case, and as a result, Hammer’s character comes off as horribly under-written.

“The Birth of a Nation” is such a chore to watch that by the time the rebellion actually, finally, happens and the movie gets some energy, it’s too late. Even the rebellion itself is kind of drab and ho hum. That’s probably because this movie is trying to be way more artsy and profound than it actually is. If Nate Parker was looking to claim the movie’s title from D.W. Griffith, he failed. Next time he’ll have to do way better. Giving the movie a pulse would be a good start. Skip it.

Deepwater Horizon

There isn’t much to say about the plot of “Deepwater Horizon.” The movie is essentially a chronicle of the events of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which took place on April 20, 2010, on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. We follow Chief Electrical Engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), Operations Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), and other crew members as they leave their homes in various states like Texas, Louisiana, and California to go to the rig in the Gulf of Mexico and drill for oil. Awaiting on board is British Petroleum head honcho Vidrine (John Malkovich), who is there to make sure schedules are met. The crew is already weeks behind in pumping the oil out, and Vidrine needs to get things moving right away.

“Deepwater Horizon” takes us step by step in what went wrong and how. Harrell is known for his safety record and insists, much to Vidrine’s chagrin, that proper safety checks be done. They are done, but false readings are given. In spite of the bad feeling some of the crew has about moving forward with drilling, the go ahead is given. Disaster of course ensues, but in fairness to Vidrine, it is reasonable, based on the way the movie lays it out, that they would think it is safe to drill. If he decided to move ahead with no safety checks, or in spite of a bad reading, it would be easy to chalk up the tragedy to corporate greed. However, as shown in “Deepwater Horizon,” that is not the case.

Director Peter Berg does a remarkable job in not only chronicling the events of the day in terms of what happened and why, but also bringing us into the hellish environment that surrounded the crew once the pressure built up and things started exploding and catching fire all around. The panic and desperation of the crew is palpable as these regular, ordinary workers run to save their—and each other’s—lives. “Deepwater Horizon” is a harrowing tribute to the crew of the real life Deepwater Horizon and those who tragically lost their lives that day. Rent it.

Kevin Hart: What Now?

With all of the names floating around to replace Daniel Craig as James Bond, I can’t help but wonder why Kevin Hart is not among them. I have to ask that question after the hilarious opening and closing “spy” segments starring comedian Kevin Hart, a put upon Halle Berry, and a really angry Don Cheadle that bookend “Kevin Hart: What Now?” Of course, with someone like Kevin Hart, it is more of a spy spoof rather than a straight spy thriller, so okay—Kevin Hart can be the next Derek Flint.

In between the spy goofiness, “Kevin Hart: What Now?” is primarily a comedy concert in which Hart does a stand up routine in front of fifty thousand people at Lincoln Financial Field, an outdoor venue in Philadelphia. He was red hot the night this was recorded. All the high pitched, frenetic delivery and outrageous stories we’ve come to expect from Hart are in full force. He’s also brilliantly skilled at crafting the callback—a way of writing a comedy routine in which you plant an image or idea in the beginning of the bit, then refer back to it at the end. If done wrong, it can come across as hokey or contrived. If done right, it comes across as inspirational and comedically genius. Hart does it right. It’s no accident that he’s performing in front of fifty thousand people after all.

The only lull for me is when he gets too personal.  I get that I am in the minority here, but when a comedian (Hart is certainly not the only one who ventures into this territory) starts talking about his or her bedroom antics, it puts me off. If a friend of mine started a conversation with, “Last night while my wife was giving me a beej” I’d tell him to shut up and keep it to himself. I don’t want to hear it. Same is true for me and comedians, including Hart. I really don’t want to hear it. Yes, I know that the stories he is telling are more than likely made up, no matter how “true” he says they are, but somehow that is even worse. The only thing that puts me off more than a friend talking to me about sex with their significant other is them lying to me about what they’re doing during that time.

But again, I understand how people are titillated by those types of stories and find them juicy, so I can’t really fault Hart or other comedians for going there. And aside from that little bit in which I kind of tuned out and didn’t laugh all that much, I found “Kevin Hart: What Now?” to be pretty hilarious, for the most part, from start to finish. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Max Steel,” about teenage Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) and alien Steel (voice of Josh Brener), who combine powers to become superhero Max Steel; and “His Girl Friday,” my favorite version of Ben Hecht’s classic play “The Front Page,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and directed by Howard Hawks with extremely fast-paced rat-a-tat dialogue.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.