I’m here all day for Diane Kruger fighting Nazis. The only problem with Faith Akin’s In the Fade is that, instead of focusing on that part of the story, it turns into a middling Law & Order episode.
Katja (Kruger) and Nuri (Numan Acar) are married, live in Hamburg, and have a five-year-old son, Rocco. Nuri is an ex-con, but he’s put his drug peddling ways behind him and now helps other immigrants with taxes and translations. They’re hip, cool parents, wildly in love, their kid is great, and everything is sunshine and puppy dogs. Until a bomb goes off. In front of Nuri’s office. Where he and Rocco are. With her world in smoldering ruins, Katja mourns, pursues justice, and ultimately seeks revenge against the young Nazi couple responsible.
Kruger is as good as she’s ever been, in any language—FYI, In the Fade is German. The early scenes with her family are natural and authentic, and watching her crumble, she rips herself open with grief and spirals out of control before she rights the ship and steels herself for what must be done. It’s a phenomenal, raw performance that takes the audience with her on a pummeling journey through anguish, renewal, and retribution.
And it’s really too bad that, with such an incredible central performance, In the Fade spends the entire middle portion of the movie spinning its wheels as a bland, tedious courtroom procedural. It sets up what comes after, and if fuels Katja’s frustration and resolve, but it’s the most toothless, predictable faux trial that could have been lifted directly from a Lifetime movie.
Oh, the villainous defense attorney who seriously looks and acts like a vampire (Johannes Krisch, who straight up looks like he knows how human blood tastes) brings up both Katja and Nuri’s checkered past to discredit the case. Shocker. And of course the defense lifts every last dirty trick from every made-for-TV court drama from the 1980s. Like for Katja, it’s infuriating to watch, though for very different reasons.
It’s maddening because the opening and closing are both so strong. Without revealing too much, the ending offers a messy, complicated bit of revenge. Akin doesn’t spoon-feed us easy answers, and it’s not particularly satisfying. Some may call it nihilistic or troublingly similar to the inciting event—both of which are fair—though, for a grieving mother pushed to the brink and with few other options, it feels real. Even if the audience’s attention span has been tested by the time it arrives.
Perhaps the most unsettling element of In the Fade is that the real-life rise of far-right and racist extremists in Germany inspired Akin. And it serves as a timely reminder about the threat of creeping global fascism—the young Nazis are part of a sprawling fascist network with connections to Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.
Kruger puts a human face on the high cost and lingering damage left by terrorism, and offers a powerful, moving examination of a mother’s grief. Her performance haunts and remains long after the fact. And In the Fade could have been something remarkable were it not for the wearisome slog it becomes in the middle. Even with a compelling conclusion, it never fully recovers and digs out of the narrative hole it creates for itself. [Grade: C+]