An Acceptable Loss
by Brandon Thomas
That phrase kept popping up in my mind while watching An Acceptable Loss. Unfortunately, the subject of morals mixed with politics was something the film was only concerned with on a surface level.
Libby Lamm (Tika Sumpter) has just started a teaching position at a prestigious Chicago area university. Although she’s excited about this fresh start after leaving a position at the White House, many staff and students are less than enthused with her presence on campus. One of Libby’s pupils (Ben Tavassoli), in particular, is fixated on the new professor and begins tracking her every move around campus and her home. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about the devastating decision that led Libby out of politics, and into being one of the country’s most hated pariahs.
The most frustrating aspect of An Acceptable Loss is how it sets up a central conflict that could have made for a spellbinding thriller. It instead settles for a Cinemax-level B-movie.
One of the earlier scenes between Libby and her student, Martin, is a tense clash between two people who couldn’t be further apart, and it makes you wish for the movie that might’ve been. Instead, character motivations change on a dime, and that early sense of dread is replaced with a sense of “been there, done that.”
The majority of the cast doesn’t make the material any easier to swallow. Sumpter’s wooden delivery of political jargon is more reminiscent of a freshman PoliSci major than a beltway professional. Tavassol spends the first half of the film brooding at every other character (I honestly expected him to start giving extras the Stink Eye), and the second half doing his best (worst?) Shia Labeouf on cough medicine impression.
Jamie Lee Curtis, in her small role as vice president and president, fares somewhat better. Her natural gravitas lends itself well to being the leader of the free world; unfortunately, the dialogue she’s delivering is almost 100 percent clunky exposition.
It’s unclear what director Joe Chappelle’s (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) original intentions were. Did he envision a taught political thriller in the vain of Three Days of the Condor or was a low-rent Pelican Brief always the plan?
Chappelle’s mishandling of the film’s focus and pacing hobbles the An Acceptable Loss early on and it’s never able to recover.
Maybe this movie was never going to be anything other than cheap Tom Clancy. The promise of that first act, however, hangs over the rest of the film, and in the back of this viewer’s brain, like a giant “What If?”