With the world currently in a febrile, dangerous state, a movie like An Acceptable Loss can’t help but feel timely. This is the story of a woman dealing with the consequences of a political decision taken in the midst of a tense meeting at the highest level of American government. It’s a ludicrous and heightened tale, but one towards which reality seems to be edging ever closer.
Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Lamm (Tika Sumpter) is taking up a new post as a lecturer on a political science course at a university, but she’s followed by anti-war protesters and faces awkward questions about a decision she made while serving as a security adviser to the government. She and then vice president Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis) were the architects of a decision that led to “total victory” in the war on terror, but Libby is grilled as to whether the cost was too high, not least by inquisitive and slightly unnerving student Martin (Ben Tavassoli).
The central discussion point of An Acceptable Loss is an interesting one, focusing on just how far governments should go with the weapons capabilities of the modern world. Early on, Burke – portrayed by a defiant, steely Curtis – states that her actions “prevented a catastrophe that would’ve made 9/11 look like a footnote” and there’s something to be said for the way Sumpter’s character experiences both hatred and appreciation from people she meets.
However, writer-director Joe Chappelle’s film completely misses out on the potential of its premise. It’s a visually ugly movie, shot in varying shades of grey throughout and with little kinetic energy, even as it moves into what it presumably believes to be pacy thriller territory in the second half. Burke believes the American public now live in a better world, free of fear, but the visual style renders this as an America of dismal dystopia.
It’s also a movie bathed in cliché, with Sumpter retreating to cry, fully-clothed in the shower after she is confronted at a party and Clarke Peters slithering around the screen as a handsome, but obviously dodgy, government suit. Sumpter and Curtis deliver solid and intriguing performances, although there’s barely a hint of the depth that the actors are clearly itching to offer to these women, responding in very different ways to the fallout of their actions.
An Acceptable Loss is desperate for the audience to take it seriously, but the ludicrous script makes it rather difficult. When a flashback sequence reveals the true nature of what happened in that murky boardroom, it’s a hysterical, contrived cartoon of a scenario that undercuts the straight-faced storytelling and grim tone. Despite an arsenal of strong performances and an interesting setup, this isn’t a film with anything interesting to say.
Dir: Joe Chappelle
Scr: Joe Chappelle
Cast: Tika Sumpter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Tavassoli, Jeff Hephner, Alex Weisman, Clarke Peters, Rex Linn
Prd: Colleen Griffen
DOP: Petra Korner
Music: Valgeir Sigurðsson
Run time: 102 mins
An Acceptable Loss is on VOD in the UK from 15th July.