Personal grief, international fascist politics and the oppression of Middle Eastern people intersect in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade. The film’s thematic salad is accompanied by a similar genre mishmash — it’s first a character study, then a legal drama and finally a revenge thriller. The movie is many things, not one of which is interesting, even with Diane Kruger doing her best to hold them all together with her wounded animal performance.
Kruger plays Katja, a German woman married to a Kurdish immigrant and ex-con. Their tranquility is literally blown apart — a bomb planted in her husband’s office kills both him and their young son. The culprits are soon identified as a neo-Nazi couple. Katja has to sit through all the horrible details of their planning and execution of the crime in court, remaining steadfast for the sake of seeing everything through to its end. (Minor spoilers ahead.) And yet, unbelievably, the pair is found not guilty, leading to the aforementioned thriller plot emerging in the final half hour, as Katja stalks the couple to Greece, awaiting a chance to take revenge. So, In the Fade is nearly over before its true story starts.
One could counter that the true story is somehow the evolution of Katja’s pain, even though that isn’t terribly well-defined beyond the societal prejudices around her. In the wake of the murders, her husband is initially suspected of criminal activities. During the trial, the fact that Katja took drugs to cope in the aftermath is used in an attempt to discredit her testimony. And, of course, the fact that the court ultimately lets the killers go free suggests how much worth they place on the lives of non-white people. That all of this is channeled through the struggle of a white woman is supremely odd.
The most interesting aspect of In the Fade, in fact, is its subtext. By vicariously experiencing the discrimination against her non-white husband and son, Katja “becomes” less white herself, in a way. This would be fascinating to untangle if the film truly seemed to have anything on its mind beyond outraging the viewer with the sheer injustice of it all. It’s nothing but an awards bait vehicle for Kruger. Writer/director Akin presents everything through a stilted lens which mistakes prosaic framing and editing for a matter of fact tone.
In the Fade would be more tonally coherent if it stuck to the courtroom plotline, even if that would make it little more than a glorified episode of some legal procedural TV show. Hell, it’d make sense if it was entirely the po-faced, faux-arthouse female version of Taken that it turns into in the last act. It’s not even impossible for it to be both, but Akin doesn’t so much steer the film through these shifts as he makes it careen wildly and abruptly. There’s something identifiably true to life about many of the movie’s observations on systemic racism, but this maudlin expression of them makes it all feel false instead.
Dan Schindel is a Maryland-born, currently Los Angeles-based film critic and freelance editor. Follow him on Twitter @DanSchindel.