Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Movie Review of Joe Chappelle's Political Thriller An Acceptable Loss with Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter: Tension and Surprising Plot Twists Keep You Watching Till the Very End

Review by Connor Moriarty

An Acceptable Loss (2018) is a political thriller with an intriguingly ambitious execution. Tika Sumpter (Ride Along. Nobody’s Fool), Ben Tavassoli (Overlord), and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween ’78, Halloween ’18) all turn in strong performances in their respective roles and Writer/Director Joe Chappelle (Chicago Fire, The Wire) crafts a timely, thrilling, and emotional story.

Political thrillers a-la Body of Lies (2008) and The Ides of March (2011), tend to bite off more plot devices and elements than they can chew. An Acceptable Loss gains a lot of ground in its innate sense of urgency. Right off the bat, there’s an undeniably frightening tension between the two leads, Martin (Tavassoli) and Libby (Sumpter).
They have no personal knowledge of each other, but there’s still a history. Libby’s dark past involving a political decision that left hundreds of thousands dead, haunts her throughout the film. Martin, a student at the university she currently teaches at, lost family in that same event. So, naturally, as the film progresses and inches closer to their eventual confrontation, there’s plenty of undeniable tension.

Jamie Lee Curtis stars in An Acceptable Loss, distributed by IFC Films
Photo Credit: Adrian Burrows

However, what begins as a personal battle involving revenge, obsession, guilt, and redemption, eventually morphs into something much greater in scale. This is a massive turning point in the film. As previously mentioned, Libby’s history is constantly feeding on her like a parasite. Likewise, Martin’s unbridled hatred and obsession has turned him into a person so unlike his true character. Their story alone could’ve carried the film to its end. Shifting from the small scale, personal story to the sweeping espionage/conspiracy story will surprise some. Regardless, this section of the film is well paced and, most importantly, makes terrific use of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character.

In Select Theaters and On-Demand January 18th, 2019

Rachel Burke (Curtis) is first introduced through flashbacks. As Libby tries to make sense of her decisions, she constantly falls back on her decidedly intense relationship with a woman who, ultimately, manipulated many aspects of her mindset. Jamie Lee’s scenes are easily the best of the whole film. She is at once warm and friendly as well as sinister and cunning. Her presence is felt even when she isn’t on screen. Moreover, her performance contributes to the malicious atmosphere that permeates the latter portion of the film. It’s filled to the brim with paranoia and the feeling that no one character is safe.

However, in addition to all of her villainous traits, the film does make several attempts to humanize her. Rachel makes several speeches about the difficulty of making high profile, delicate decisions on a regular basis. This element is welcomed, as it allows the film to make a significant bit of commentary on the nature of political leadership. Tough choices might seem obvious looking in from the outside, but you never really know until you’re there yourself.

Writer/Director Joe Chappelle on set with Tika Sumter                    Photo Suzanne Ordas Curry

In noting all the intriguing plot elements, emotional character arcs, and political commentary, the film’s presentation is in muted colors which was intentional according to Joe Chappelle “in order for the viewer to concentrate on the dialogue”; this serves the story sufficiently enough. A nitpick is that it would’ve been interesting to see some more creative imagery for example during Libby’s paranoia and anxiety driven episodes.

An Acceptable Loss, which was originally titled The Pages, is overall an excellently acted and ambitiously executed thriller.  Chappelle and co. throw more than enough distressing atmosphere, surprising plot twists, and sharp suspense at you to keep your unwavering engagement until the end credits.

This film is recommended to those who enjoy political thrillers as well as films focused on contemporary society.

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