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Less Than Acceptable Pacing Dooms “An Acceptable Loss”

Political thrillers are popular for a reason. Whether in book or cinematic form, they play on all of our worst fears about government. Especially with the modern spying situation and war on terror, there’s plenty to be inspired by. Sadly, the new release An Acceptable Loss only scratches the surface of what could have been explored. A poorly paced drama, it crawls along at a snail’s pace before picking up when it’s far too late. This could have been a nifty little thriller. Instead, it mostly just tries your patience. I’d call it an interesting failure, but it barely even reaches that point.

The film is a political drama/thriller, as mentioned above. We meet Elizabeth “Libby” Lamm (Tika Sumpter) as she’s taking a teaching job at a top university in Chicago. A former top U.S. national security adviser to Vice President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis), she’s met with protests due to her involvement in something known as the Burke Doctrine. Libby crafted and signed off on the controversial military action, which was supposed to be an end once and for all to the war on terror. Instead, when thousands died, it became a political scandal. Now, Libby is haunted by what she did, having blood on her hands. As we come to learn the false pretenses that led her to this point, a student named Martin (Ben Tavassoli) with a connection to her past. As he becomes obsessed with her, she flashes back on her interactions with Burke, all the while putting pen to paper on something that could shake up the world. Cue the conspiracy thriller aspects in the third act. Joe Chappelle writes and directs, while the supporting cast includes Deanna Dunagan, Jeff Hephner, Rex Linn, Clarke Peters, Alex Weisman, and more. Petra Korner handles the cinematography.

The movie is a misfire. It all ends up feeling like a lesser subplot from a season of House of Cards. The pacing drags, the payoff is lacking, and the focus is largely wayward. It’s a shame too, since there’s a compelling tale that could have been told here. The political intrigue that develops at times has potential, but everything surrounding it is so ponderous and talky that it never connects. The first two acts are really slow and trying, while the third act picks up a bit. It gets absolutely ridiculous, to be sure, but by then, it’s at least a change of pace. Sumpter is good, while Curtis is a welcome presence (more on her in a bit), though that’s not nearly enough to save the day.

After being gloriously returned to the Halloween franchise last year, Curtis is absolutely wasted here. Seeing her as the Vice President is definitely cool, but her character is completely one note. That doesn’t allow Curtis to really get to do anything worth paying attention to. She tries, but it’s all for naught. A film that makes Curtis a VP in a political thriller should be supremely interesting. Hell, any drama with Curtis in a position of power should be a worthwhile endeavor. Alas, this flick is low on general worthiness. Perhaps considering Chappelle’s rough prior big screen credits should have been a hint?

Unless you’re a huge Curtis fan, An Acceptable Loss is far too uneven to recommend. Even then, the actress you love is often wasted. The movie just is not up to snuff. Her fans deserved better. You can get more from any lesser subplot from House of Cards, even in the more recent seasons when the show completely jumped the shark. The movie is destined to be forgotten, and quickly too. Curtis is a total legend and Sumpter was terrific in Southside With You a few years ago, but this is not a top tier representation of either of them. Alas…

An Acceptable Loss hits theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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