After 9/11, spy thrillers shifted to anti-terrorism, bringing us shows like Homeland, Sleeper Cell and 24. The well-documented use of that tragic date as a propaganda mechanism to drive the US into war further inspired films like Brian De Palma’s Redacted and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which asked important questions about the extent to which we could fight our enemy without becoming just like our enemy. Veteran director Joe Chappelle attempts and miserably fails, to bring these elements together in An Acceptable Loss.
Libby (Tika Sumpter), a former top security aide to the White House and daughter of a respected newspaper editor (Clarke Peters), is trying to adjust to academic life, but her past won’t leave her alone. Memories haunt her, her coworkers remind her, and a former colleague/lover (Jeff Hephner) shows up unexpectedly. To make matters worse, one of her students, Martin (Ben Tavassoli), has taken an unusual interest in her daily life. Try as she might, she can’t shake her legacy as the architect of a world-changing strategic plot that cost lives. Ultimately, these events lead her to make a fateful decision that will determine the rest of her life.
“…trying to adjust to academic life, but her past won’t leave her alone.”
Unfortunately, what should have been a gripping tale of espionage ends up a complete dud. Much like Chappelle’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the story is jumbled and just plain boring. Flashbacks attempt to fill in backstory, but there’s little indication that they are the past when the scene simply cuts and stays with the exact same rhythm as the present. The dialog only makes matters worse, offering little more than one-dimensional characters. Villains have all the depth of a Hanna-Barbera Council of Doom, resulting in contrived motivations, while the protagonists are just bland. It’s obvious that no government employees were actually consulted in the writing of the screenplay. Sadly, the big reveal becomes the greatest casualty in the film, falling dead flat when it comes.
The actors do the best with what they have, which isn’t much. Sumpter and Tavassoli throw their all into their characters, but with so little to go on, their performances are wasted. Libby is secretive and paranoid, but her being that way never materializes beyond what is happening in the present. Likewise, Martin has strong motivations that he easily shrugs off when the reveal is made. Even Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Libby’s former White House boss Rachel, gets lost in the muddle. Her portrayal of a powerful hawkish top-level executive (the exact position left as another reveal for some unnecessary reason) comes across as hammy, her lines leaving little room for anything beyond “WAR, WAR, WAR.” Perhaps the strongest character is Jordan; a secondary role played by Alex Weisman. As Martin’s gay roommate, he has the greatest range of anyone else in the film.
“As Martin’s gay roommate, he has the greatest range of anyone else in the film.”
It’s so easy to point our fingers and proclaim the other as evil without caring to dig any deeper. By this token, all government employees become warmongering agents of the deep state, even if they’re just delivering your mail. The left is as guilty as the right in this regard, and that’s where An Acceptable Loss fails. What could have explored the real complexities behind a serious issue instead became a self-congratulatory pat on the back for holding a specific viewpoint, and a boring one at that.
An Acceptable Loss (2018) Directed by Joe Chappelle. Written by Joe Chappelle. Starring Tika Sumpter, Ben Tavassoli, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alex Weisman, Jeff Hephner and Clarke Peters.
3 out of 10 stars