An Acceptable Loss: A Political Thriller

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.

Headlined by shining performances from Tika Sumpter and Ben Tavassoli, An Acceptable Loss is full of political thrills in the Chicago-set thriller.

A brief prologue introduces us to former US national security advisor, Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Lamm (Tika Sumpter), and her boss, then-Vice President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis).  While watching the film, we learn that Lamm authored the controversial and “commission-proof” Burke Doctrine.  It’s because of this that Lamm decides to step away from her position.  Cut to four years later and she takes a job at Grant University in the Chicago area.

It’s while she’s teaching at Grant where a graduate student, Martin (Tavassoli), becomes super-interested in her.  It’s to the point in which we think he may be a stalker.  Whatever happened four years ago has emotionally affected Martin.  While all this is going on, Burke’s chief of staff, Adrian (Jeff Hephner), comes back into Libby’s life.  Adrian has questions but with Libby going completely off the grid, he requires an answer in person.  Is she or isn’t she on Burke’s team?  If not, will she stay silent?

As we’re drawn into this world, we get bits and pieces of the backstory.  Why is it that Lamm is such a controversial hire for Grant?  We quickly learn that this is because of things that came out due to an attack in response to Los Angeles.  We never exactly learn what happened in LA other than who organized it.  This is an act that is meant to end the war on terror.  In any event, Lamm is beginning to work on her memoir, which only increases the thrills of this film.  Should word get out of what Burke did, her career is over!

There’s some light moments of laughter in an otherwise thrilling film.  As far as the political themes, we never know what political party that Rachel Burke or her predecessor (Rex Linn) are registered.  This is an especially safe call for writer-director Joe Chappelle because it shows any politician could make a bad decision.  Even though the film has a female president, she’s not standing in for a real politician.  Burke could honestly be anyone–Republican or Democrat.

Chappelle seeks to explore this internal conflict between right and wrong in his script.  Did Elizabeth Lamm do the right think as a security advisor or was it a mistake?  If it was a mistake, how should she go about righting this wrong?  Chappelle takes the inspiration for this script from two Errol Morris documentaries–The Fog of War and The Unknown Known–on both Defense Secretaries Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively.  These two serve as the perfect inspiration for the film given how they presided over the Pentagon during Vietnam and Iraq.  How many losses is it worth to protect our nations borders?  This is the question at the heart of the film.

Another thing I like about this film is the filmmakers opt to shoot the film in the Chicago area.  At a time when so many films are set in New York and Los Angeles, it’s nice to see the Windy City get some love.  I hope to see more films follow in their lead.  The Chicago area offers some great options for scenery.

An Acceptable Loss makes for a fantastic non-partisan political thriller that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats.

CAST: Tika Sumpter, Ben Tavassoli, Deanna Dunagan, Jeff Hephner, with Clarke Peters and Jamie Lee Curtis

An Acceptable Loss held its world premiere during the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival.  IFC Films will release the film in select theaters and VOD on January 18, 2019. A theatrical expansion will follow. Grade: 4.5/5.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.