By Jeffrey M. Anderson
This political thriller is ambitious and timely, but it’s also disappointingly awkward, with stilted performances in the first half, and a second half that grows increasingly routine and ridiculous.
In An Acceptable Loss, former national security advisor Libby Lamm (Tika Sumpter) is now teaching at a university, constantly on her guard while writing a memoir. She doesn’t have a phone or a computer, and writes longhand in notebooks while behind a myriad of locks and alarms.
As she writes, we learn more and more about her involvement with Vice President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis) and an attack on Syria that was meant to wipe out six international terrorist leaders. But a student, Martin (Ben Tavassoli), becomes obsessed with her and begins to follow and spy on her. At the same time, her former employers track her down and demand to know where her loyalties lie. If Libby tells the truth, there could be big trouble.
Written and directed by Joe Chappelle — whose earlier film work consists of genre stuff like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Phantoms, and The Skulls II — An Acceptable Loss begins with an intriguing scenario.
The main character was directly involved with a decision to eliminate 150,000 bystanders to get six important terrorists, and now must live with the fallout from that. The movie is honest in dealing with this, the way that Libby is accosted with questions and accusations (or, sometimes, even support) wherever she goes, and the way in which she has retreated into a world of spareness and suspicion.
But even as soon as the movie starts, the most basic scenes play stiffly, with actors that appear to be at different levels, or in different spaces. Aside from her hidden depths, Libby is weirdly static, rarely making an organic move from within; everything acts upon her. And, despite her brains and paranoia, it’s frustrating how easy it is for Martin to breach her security system.
From there, the movie turns into an absolutely silly, brainless chase, wherein nothing anyone does makes much sense. It could have been an incendiary, ferocious movie, instead of the limp one it is, but at least Curtis is totally committed to her malevolent, razor-edged political powerhouse character.