Review: AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS Shows Jamie Lee Curtis At Her Best

an acceptable loss sitting
Jamie Lee Curtis as “Rachel Burke” and Tika Sumpter as “Elizabeth Lamb” in Joe Chappelle’s An Acceptable Loss. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

At what point is a sacrifice considered too much to pay? That is the question asked by An Acceptable Loss.

An Acceptable Loss is a new political thriller written and directed by Joe Chappelle. It tells the story of a retired U.S. security advisor that is threatened by associates from her past and a young student who has a sinister obsession with her. The film debuted at the 2018 Chicago Film Festival.

This movie and its story are extremely relevant to today’s political climate. Although a bit extreme, the plot serves as a metaphorical representation of what is going on in the U.S. government right now. Objectively, there is a lot going on in Washington in terms of power shifts and changes in those who are making decisions. This movie attempts to capture that, and in so doing, has a strong edge of realism.

The characters in this film are very complex and difficult to understand. The whole point of the movie is that there is a level of moral ambiguity in their actions, and as such, it is hard to decide where your opinion on them should fall. Should we hate them because of their past? Or should we sympathize with them because of the situation in which they find themselves? This thought-provoking characterization is the main appeal of the film.

an acceptable loss argument
Jamie Lee Curtis as “Rachel Burke” and Tika Sumpter as “Elizabeth Lamb” in Joe Chappelle’s An Acceptable Loss. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

There is a subplot that wasn’t particularly well-written involving the character being pursued by a stalker. This is supposed to result in a big twist, but this twist was entirely predictable and expected. This storyline doesn’t add much to the movie as a whole or its symbolism. Instead, the subplot comes across as dead weight that only eats up screen time.

What will most likely put people off about the film is its pacing. This is a slow-burn thriller, and as such, there is very little real excitement until the final act. This does prove trying at times — it’s not hard to zone out of the movie — but the script is able to draw you back in by the end. Part of this film’s issue is that it is so effective in delivering its message early on that it ultimately becomes redundant.

an acceptable loss duo
Jamie Lee Curtis as “Rachel Burke” and Tika Sumpter as “Elizabeth Lamb” in Joe Chappelle’s An Acceptable Loss. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

The acting in this movie is great. Tika Sumpter gives a compelling turn as the protagonist. She captures the ambiguity of the character well, bringing either humanity or coldness to the role at different times. Jamie Lee Curtis gives a relatively small, but impactful supporting performance. The role is unlike those she normally plays, and she does a good job with it. She should be getting more roles like this.

In technical terms, the film was mostly forgettable. The filmmakers didn’t use the cinematography to its full extent. The movie feels more play-like than cinematic, and that is disappointing. The whole film is shot in tones of gray, and while that seems purposeful (the “gray zone”, get it?), it is distracting and not particularly pleasant to look at.

Overall, An Acceptable Loss is certainly a thought-provoking movie, but it could have done more to keep the audience’s interest. It needed to be a bit flashier than it was.

An Acceptable Loss opens in theaters and on VOD January 18.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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