An Acceptable Loss is a film that thinks it's deep and profound when, in reality, it's incredibly shallow. Writer/director Joe Chappelle (Phantoms) wants to look at the cost of war, specifically when it comes to collateral damage. He does so by presenting the most obvious scenario imaginable, then refusing to dig into it anyway. Instead, the film goes down a predictable thriller road that does nothing to add substance to the theme.
Tika Sumpter plays Libby Lamm, a former national security adviser admired for her brilliance. While working for high-ranking political official Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis), she advocated for a military strike designed to permanently end the war on terror. Thousands of innocent people died in the process. Now working as a professor, Libby attempts to atone for her actions by spilling the beans in a memoir. Government officials take action to prevent her from completing it, and a mysterious young man named Martin (Ben Tavassoli) begins surveilling her. In flashbacks that take forever to tell us what's happening, we see how Rachel pressured Libby to make the call, despite serious reservations.
The central question of An Acceptable Loss is: How many innocent lives would it be worth losing if it would dramatically cripple terrorism? The movie never really explores that question. There's a scene where one character confronts another with the query, and that's about it. “Collateral damage is really, really bad” is as close as we get to an answer.
Instead of delving into the moral complexities of military action, the film trots out a series of inane, logic-defying scenes that are almost laughable in their absurdity. For example, after catching Martin breaking into her home and opening up her safe, Libby accepts his explanation at face value and immediately begins trusting him with her most explosive secrets. Another time, there's a scene where she's so upset by someone calling her a war criminal that she goes home and cries in the shower, while still dressed. Do people actually do that?
The third act of An Acceptable Loss gets into dull action scenes as Libby and Martin attempt to outrun the government figures pursuing them. The movie abandons its initial premise here, replacing it with low-rent chase scenes, as well as a final “twist” that can be seen coming a mile away.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter are not to blame. They're both committed to the material. But that material is irredeemably weak. An Acceptable Loss takes so long to explain what Libby did that no dramatic momentum can be built. You run the risk of zoning out long before the film finally gets around to its point -- and then the point turns out to be so thin that it wasn't worth making in the first place.
out of four
An Acceptable Loss is unrated, but contains adult language and mature subject matter. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.