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After Chrystal's limited release in the South, McKinnon plans to begin work on his second feature, a Georgia-set comedy called Randy and the Mob, in which he plays estranged twin brothers. But even doing light fare, don't expect cookie-cutter cornpone farce from the filmmaker. When it comes to chronicling the South on screen, he's a rebel.
Ray McKinnons The Accountant compounds interest
By Curt Holman
You can order a DVD of the short film The Accountant on the website of filmmaker Ray McKinnons Ginny Mule production company (www.ginnymule.com) and in fact, if you have any interest in Southern movies, or funny movies, or excellent movies of any kind, you must. The little-seen short may be one of the most essential films ever made about the South.
I first saw The Accountant on a screener with other short films playing the 2001 Atlanta Film Festival. I popped it in the VCR knowing nothing but McKinnons local connections, and found myself mesmerized within minutes. When my wife came home from work that night, I insisted she watch it immediately, and she fell under its sway as well. Then I had to show it to all my friends, who not only loved it, too, but often wanted their own copy. Infectiously watchable, The Accountant resembles the kind of supernatural video you find in movies like The Ring.
At first, the hilarious, pitch-perfect dark comedy unfolds like a modern-day Flannery OConnor tale. A farmer (Eddie King) and his white-collar brother (Walton Goggins) face foreclosure of the family farm when a drawling, chain-smoking, hard-drinking number-cruncher (McKinnon) comes up with a dangerously unorthodox solution.
My God, wheres this coming from? McKinnon asked himself while writing The Accountants first draft over a white-hot two-week period. After the fact, he realized that The Accountants inspiration came from two sources. Every time he drove from the Atlanta airport to his hometown of Adel, he saw a beautiful but abandoned farmhouse, and alongside it, a modest trailer where the family actually lived. Writing The Accountant gave him a way to imagine the familys story.
His script also derives from a rural version of an urban legend. Growing up, I heard about this guy whod cut off a digit from time to time to get insurance money: Youd get a certain amount for a leg, a certain amount for an arm. Not so much for a finger but he didnt have high aims, just drinkin money. A little toe, you might get a couple of six packs. True or not, the story stuck with me.
The Accountant ingeniously balances black humor with the plight of a family farm, then takes a mind-boggling turn. McKinnons bean counter spins disturbingly plausible conspiracy theories about the media distortions of South and the homogenization of America. He even intimates that future Chrystal star Billy Bob Thornton may not be a real person. The accountant neatly sums up his beliefs about the vanishing Southern way of life in a line about the restaurant chain, Boston Market. He tells the brothers, One day your kidsll eat cornbread thats sweet, and drink ice tea that aint, and think thats a Southern tradition.
While making the film, McKinnon wondered whether the short would speak to anyone beyond his immediate circle of friends and fellow filmmakers.
I certainly hoped it would resonate with Southerners, especially a certain kind of Southerner whos thoughtful, whos gone to Jackson, Miss., and said, This could be anywhere in America. Because everywhere you go, theres Chilis For Ribs and Best Buys and the Hilton. You could be in Jackson, or you could be in Southern California. And its not just a Southern matter. The homogeny and pop-culturalization is happening all over the world.
He found a firsthand example of the mall-ization of the South when he scouted for a suitable farmhouse within a 35-mile radius of Atlanta for a shooting location. I found out that a 35-mile radius of Atlanta, was Atlanta. Even the twanging Jimmie Dale Gilmore tune playing over the opening credits fakes out the audience, according to the filmmaker. He likes that viewers will sit down with The Accountant and think at first, Oh, this is one of those country movies. Heres the shots of the cotton fields, heres the country music playing, and holy shit, thats Mack the Knife!
The Accountant not only subverts expectations for Southern film, its cunning satire exposes unsettling cultural trends with implications far beyond the Mason-Dixon line.
The Accountant won Best Short Film at the 2002 Academy Awards, after a qualifying run at the Atlanta Film Festival, and McKinnon says that though hes proud of it, he wont let the Oscar go to his head. I have to keep it in proper size. The accolades have been very nice, but it is a short film, its not Best Picture.
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