April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

In My Opinion: The Accountant

The Accountant turned out to be one of those movies that slips under the radar during its initial run, but turns out to be a delightful little gem when you take a risk on it at the Redbox. (Your mileage may vary.) I start out with this statement to be very clear that I really liked this film, because I’m going to spend very little time on the plot. (Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, shady math, maniacal corporate overlords: all good. Finally, the U.S. Department of the Treasury gets its moment to shine.)

Rather, I’m going to examine this movie through Civil Servant eyes. Because YIKES.

Let’s start at the beginning. (A very good place to start.) Spoilers ahead.


J.K. Simmons plays the Director of Treasury’s FinCEN. Near the beginning of the film, a FinCEN data analyst strides down a hallway (ostensibly in a or even THE Treasury building) and barges into his office.

Now, FinCEN is totally a real thing, and kudos to this movie for reminding everyone that federal law enforcement is more than the FBI and the Border Patrol. (I like to imagine the men and women of FinCEN holding viewing parties when this movie came out.) I can’t tell from cursory research whether the Director of FinCEN is a career Senior Executive or a political appointee, but I definitely know that he’s not going to have an office door that opens unimpeded into a publicly-accessible hallway. Any executive is going to be behind several doors, a secretary or two, and perhaps even an ornamental gate. C’mon.

You also notice the absence of badges in the picture above. I’m not talking LEO badges (though I guess FinCEN agents might have those, too). I’m talking run-of-the-mill ID badges. I can forgive the Director for not wearing one (executive privilege). But even if FinCEN isn’t using them for logical access, you’re not getting into or around in any federal building without showing ID to the guards.

Speaking of federal buildings, the auditorium in which the FinCEN press conferences are held is both an architectural dream (giant windows!) and a physical security disaster (giant windows!). I’ve been in a number of government auditoriums. The best you can hope for are small windows. More likely you’ll be in the bowels of a building and/or the windows will be covered to prevent a clear line of sight from the exterior. I’m just saying.

Last quibble with these two: Towards the end of the movie, they’re sitting in a house waiting for a phone call (specifics don’t matter for the purposes of my point). Simmons puts his feet up on a coffee table. His shoes are new, as in the soles aren’t even a little scuffed. What bureaucrat on last-minute TDY buys or wears new shoes?

On to the lower-ranked government staff: There’s quite a bit of looking things up in restricted databases and working all night as a favor between analysts. I’m a little skeptical, not just because working overnight presents a host of boring logistical difficulties. The real issue is that every search in a restricted database has to be justified and tracked. Not the kind of thing you want to run willy-nilly (technical term).

On the whole, though, these are minor quibbles. That I can make them—rather than complaining about plot or cast—shows how much I enjoyed The Accountant. On my recent flights to and from New Zealand,* I saw a number of people watching it on the plane. Made me smile every time…and consider pointing out the bureaucratic inaccuracies.

* More to follow on this, I promise.