An Acceptable Loss, 2019.
Written and Directed by Joe Chappelle.
Starring Tika Sumpter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Tavassoli, Jeff Hephner, Deanna Dunagan, Alex Weisman, Ali Birch, and Clarke Peters.
Former top U.S. security adviser Elizabeth “Libby” Lamm (Sumpter) is threatened by associates from her dark past including Rachel Burke (Curtis), a steely, commanding politician with an unwavering knack for achieving her goals. Colluding with Rachel is Adrian, an unyielding, patriotic chief of staff. Martin (Tavassoli) harbors another type of obsession with Libby in this story of betrayal and regret.
Honestly, there are quite a few good reasons to check out An Acceptable Loss regardless of its quality or if it sounds like something you might fancy. The film not only gives the underrated Tika Sumpter (she most recently graced audiences with her warm presence in last year’s charming The Old Man & The Gun, but is most known as probably the only good aspect of the Ride Along series) a starring role, but also keeps Jamie Lee Curtis working in between returning to the Halloween franchise with a vengeance and her unknown yet likely promising role in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out due out by Thanksgiving. The intrigue doesn’t end there, as An Acceptable Loss is written and directed by Joe Chappelle, who got his foot in the door by helming one of those forgettable Halloween sequels, specifically speaking The Curse of Michael Myers. Since then he has gone on to direct episodes of the highly successful television series Chicago PD, but connecting the dots, especially in this instance, adds more curiosity to the whole project.
The film is a political thriller of sorts, depicting disgraced former US security advisor Libby (played by Tika Sumpter) entering an academic field teaching foreign policy. Not only does she use unorthodox methods such as only communicating in person (no Internet or phones), she also has her entire home on lockdown and sleeps with a gun, almost as if Joe Chapelle is going to pull out a surprise Halloween sequel on us with our protagonist fearing the bogeyman. Joking aside, it doesn’t take long before deducing that something unforgivably immoral went down within the administration she worked for, something so inhumane that it crippled all of her relationships including the one with her father who runs a local editorial magazine.
Spliced in between Libby’s lectures and fearful existence are flashback cutaways to a pivotal dialogue exchange between her and Rachel Burke (her political advisor as played by Jamie Lee Curtis). This might sound crazy to say considering it’s an on-demand title and gives the talented actor limited screen time, but Jamie Lee Curtis delivers a cold and ruthless performance, conniving and calculated to the point where it may be one of the best things she’s ever done. Without spoiling much, she does emerge into the current timeline acting as the POTUS, with her lack of empathy and cruel mindset approaching Donald Trump levels, only a version of Donald Trump that is slightly morally complex and well spoken. There is a fear that the sins of the past are going to be brought back into the public eye with a new, far more truthful perspective, and Rachel can’t have that.
Also at play is a college student named Martin eerily obsessed with Libby, a gifted mind that somehow finds a way to invade her home and rig up multiple camera feeds. He’s the kind of brooding person that gets his thinking and planning done in complete darkness, which his roommate openly comments on, oddly enough feeling like a remark on the shoddy direction more than anything. Eventually, he and Libby are united for a common cause and on the run, but it’s also weirdly unbelievable hearing someone with Libby’s accomplishments, status, and experience in life panicking asking the student what their next course of action should be to stay hidden. I’m aware he’s the tech guy and intelligent, but it still comes across backward. There is also an unnecessary subplot involving Libby sleeping around with a politician, and as you can probably guess, he too is on the side of the villains.
The problem with An Acceptable Loss is that despite some good performances, it’s still a fairly straightforward thriller with not much interesting to say on a heavy subject such as foreign policy. Tika Sumpter is serviceable starting as someone living in fear and slowly but surely working her way up to right the wrongs within her memoir she is scribing, an act she refers to not as a betrayal but as a reckoning. With that said, the film also slogs along during the first half, as we repeatedly watch Libby admirably try to remain strong or Martin spy from his cameras. It’s also kind of pointless that Rachel cares about making sure the memoir doesn’t get published in the first place, because if I’ve learned anything about politics over the past decade it’s that people are going to believe whatever they want, even if the facts are lodged into their eyeballs. Confusingly, the movie itself acknowledges this somewhat, building to an ending that those briefly give some food for thought. Perhaps it would all mean more if the characters were less one dimensional.
I know it’s very early in the year and there’s not much to watch anyway, but even if you don’t seek this one out, it’s still an acceptable loss. That is unless, like me, you are loving watching the revival of Jamie Lee Curtis; in that case, it’s worth your time. As mentioned, Tika Sumpter is also good in a role that demands body language more so than line delivery, although she handles both well. Just don’t expect too much from the story. For a movie that gives talented women material usually dominated by men, it’s a shame that they are let down by such a shoulder-shrugging narrative
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com