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‘An Acceptable Loss’ grapples with responsibility, redemption

“An Acceptable Loss” (2019). Cast: Tika Sumpter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Tavassoli, Jeff Hephner, Deanna Dunagan, Alex Weisman, Ali Burch, Clarke Peters, Rex Linn, David Eigenberg, Carmen Roma, Tim Hopper. Director: Joe Chappelle. Screenplay: Joe Chappelle. Web site. Trailer.

In an age when it’s become all too easy to abandon responsibility, especially among those in positions of authority, it’s refreshing to see those who are willing to own up to their mistakes and even seek to redeem themselves for their oversights and misdeeds. But even those who genuinely attempt to make up for these shortcomings may face a difficult time of it and through no fault of their own. So what is one to do under such circumstances? That’s one of the central questions raised in the intense new political thriller, “An Acceptable Loss.”

Former National Security Advisor Elizabeth “Libby” Lamm (Tika Sumpter), once a powerful and influential counselor to the President, has become something of a reclusive enigma since her resignation four years ago. Even though she had attained an enviable status with the former chief executive (Rex Linn) and the current commander-in-chief, former VP Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis), Libby has a cloud hanging over her head. She rarely makes public appearances, and, when she does, she’s usually met with derisive looks or outright hostility. Because of that, she tends to keep to herself. She’s even cut herself off from most outside means of contact, having no cell phone, email address or social media connections. Why the secrecy?

Former National Security Advisor Elizabeth “Libby” Lamm (Tika Sumpter, right) confers with her onetime boss, President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis, left), regarding matters of global importance in the taut new political thriller, “An Acceptable Loss.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Libby’s efforts at keeping an intentionally low profile become more difficult, however, when she accepts a teaching position at a major university in Chicago. Suddenly she’s in the spotlight again, perhaps not as much as before, but any visibility is more than what she’s experienced for quite some time, and it makes her conspicuously uncomfortable. Libby’s department chairman (Deanna Dunagan) tries to make the new arrival feel as welcome as possible, but the pall hanging over Dr. Lamm always seems to cause embarrassment, difficulty or distress. Libby’s newly assigned personal assistant (Ali Burch) is anything but hospitable, and, at a faculty reception in her honor, Libby encounters loud and spiteful criticism from a fellow professor (David Eigenberg). Life in her new profession isn’t going to be easy.

About the only person in Libby’s corner is her father, Phillip (Clarke Peters), a newspaper publisher. He does his best to offer support, but even his reassurances aren’t enough to silence the whispers and stifle the pointed fingers directed squarely at his daughter. She’s even concerned about how much contact he should have with her for fear that guilt by association may harm his reputation.

So, under these circumstances, Libby quietly goes to her job every day, followed by a neighborhood jog and then a return home to work on a lengthy document that she writes out in long hand on legal pads. She’s exceedingly intent in working on the document, sometimes spending hours on end at it. And, upon finishing her writing each day, she locks up her papers in a sturdy antique safe. Whatever it is she’s writing, it must be pretty important if she’s willing to go to such lengths as composing it without the aid of a computer and then securing it so secretively.

As all of this unfolds, another issue arises. Unbeknownst to Libby, she’s being followed by a mysterious stalker who turns out to be one of her pupils, Martin Salhi (Ben Tavassoli), a foreign exchange grad student. What exactly does he want? Is he a would-be romantic interest? An obsessive fetishist? Or is he something else entirely? His methods and motives are unclear, but, as his actions grow progressively more cryptic and questionable, he begins raising suspicions among others, most notably his roommate, Jordan (Alex Weisman). What’s Martin up to?

President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis, left) knows she can count on the loyalty of her fiercely devoted Chief of Staff, Adrian Little (Jeff Hephner, right), in the taut new political thriller, “An Acceptable Loss.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

And, if that weren’t enough, Libby starts receiving visits from ghosts of her past, most notably now-President Burke and her fiercely loyal Chief of Staff, Adrian Little (Jeff Hephner), Libby’s onetime romantic partner. The visits are contentious, to be sure. Libby is told that she’d be warmly welcomed back into the fold if she chose to return to the President’s service. But she’s also sternly cautioned that there would be serious consequences if she doesn’t toe the line in her expected conduct now that she’s returned to the public spotlight. She’s obviously carrying potentially explosive secrets around with her, but what could they be? And what consequences would their revelation involve, both for Libby personally and the country (and world) at large? What’s more, what role does the stalker play in all this? Indeed, why is everyone pursuing Libby?

To say more would reveal too much, but suffice it to say that what lies ahead for all concerned – including the nation itself – carries implications of staggering proportions. How everyone fares will depend on how prepared they are to weather the storms coming their way – and whether those preparations are truly adequate.

So the question that naturally gets raised here is, how did Libby and everyone around her end up in these circumstances? The answer rests with the characters themselves and what they brought into being, outcomes driven by their beliefs, the building blocks of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, given what’s at stake, the creators at work here are obviously dealing with some incredibly powerful notions.

Tensions rise between Former National Security Advisor Elizabeth “Libby” Lamm (Tika Sumpter, right) and her onetime boss, President Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis, left), in director Joe Chappelle’s taut new political thriller, “An Acceptable Loss.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

As becomes apparent in the film, both through the main narrative and a series of flashbacks showing how these conditions arose, there are some very driven characters materializing what’s happening around them. They’re quite singularly focused, determined to bring about the results they want at seemingly any cost. Such conviction can be a valuable asset to a conscious creator’s efforts, but it can also be a tremendous liability when it’s let loose without consideration for the ramifications. When we seek to elicit what we want without concern for the fallout that can accompany such outcomes, we engage in un-conscious creation or creation by default, a dangerous practice that can yield far more than we bargain for, including any number of unpleasant side effects.

Such a practice also tends to show a disregard for the responsibility that’s inherent in conscious creation. We can’t legitimately take credit for certain manifestations and claim that others “just happen.” Since we’re the ones who produce what results, what ultimately materializes originates with us, making us the responsible parties for what arises. This is something we can’t abrogate as long as we engage in the process.

When “unintended” or “unwanted” outcomes result from our manifestation efforts, we must own up to them, regardless of their nature. For those who do, there may be feelings of regret or remorse that accompany the acknowledgment of these missteps. Yet, as difficult as accepting such circumstances may be, we can always make amends for the errors of our ways. We’re not perpetually saddled with such a fate; we can redeem ourselves, though we must be clear about our intents in doing so. And, as this story reveals, there’s certainly an effort being made to make that happen.

Of course, for redemption to occur, we must take certain steps first. For starters, we must overcome whatever fears or apprehensions that might hold us back. Then we must formulate beliefs necessary to implement the actions required to make redemption possible. This may call upon us to think creatively in terms of the measures we take, sometimes instituting means that are outside the box. None of this may be easy, but it is always possible, given that conscious creation enables the materialization of anything conceivable. And, considering what’s at stake here, that’s an outcome everyone would like to hope for.

“An Acceptable Loss” positively blew me away. Filmmaker Joe Chappelle knocks this one out of the park, presenting us with a taut political thriller that dispenses its secrets in exactingly measured doses, careful not to expose too much all at once but always maintaining enough viewer interest to stay hooked. This technique, reminiscent of the work of director Roman Polanski, thus makes it possible for the big reveal to have maximum impact when it’s finally exposed, walloping the audience with a revelation that will easily leave one agasp, as is the case here. On top of this, the performances are all solid, though special recognition goes out to Curtis, who turns in what is arguably the best on-screen portrayal of her career, giving us a character who is a cleverly crafted fusion of Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney. The mileage that Curtis gets out of gestures as simple as her facial expressions is truly impressive.

All of these elements conspire to give us an unforgettable picture. It’s indeed unfortunate, though, that this film has received such unfairly negative reviews, assessments that have been downright criminal in my view. I’m shocked at the petty criticisms that have been leveled against this picture, including some that have come down on it for daring to have a point of view (what movie doesn’t have a point of view?). Pay no attention to the naysayers behind the curtain and see this one, whatever way you can (either in its limited theatrical release or via online streaming). It’s a well-made film, and it imparts an important message that every American should heed.

Given the prevailing social and political climate, finding those who behave honorably has become an increasingly challenging task. So when there are those who willingly step to the fore who exhibit such behavior these days, it’s almost inconceivable that they would do so. Thankfully, the examples set in this film provide us with anticipation that such individuals still exist. Let us hope that we see them on places other than the movie screen.

Copyright © 2018-19, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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