In the Fade

In-the-Faderev In the Fade  (2018)    Magnolia/Drama    RT: 106 minutes    Rated R (some disturbing images, drug use, language, sexual references)    Director: Fatih Akin    Screenplay: Fatih Akin    Music: Josh Homme    Cinematography: Rainer Klausmann    Release date: February 2, 2018 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar, Rafael Santana, Ulrich Tukur, Ulrich Brandhoff, Hanna Hilsdorf, Yannis Economides.      Spoken in German w/English subtitles

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 The German import In the Fade, winner of this year’s Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, features a great lead performance from Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds). She plays Katja, a young woman seeking justice for the racially motivated murders of her husband and young son. She takes complete control of the role, never allowing her character to become a one-woman killing machine who blasts her way through the criminal underbelly of Hamburg in her quest for revenge. In other words, don’t call her Charlene Bronson.

 It’s Kruger who keeps In the Fade from turning into a routine revenge movie. On the contrary, it’s anything but. Written and directed by Fatih Akin (The Cut), its intentions are noble. It’s obvious he had something greater in mind. He largely succeeds in the movie’s first two-thirds by showing us a woman in mental and emotional agony as she watches the police nearly botch the investigation before arresting the right suspects. Her pain is exacerbated by a trial that doesn’t go as it should. The legal system, once again, fails the victim. This leads to the inevitable third act where the victim takes it on herself to get justice. This is where In the Fade begins to stumble.

 in the fade posterPerhaps I ought to talk about the plot before I go any further. Katja is married to Nuri (Acar, Homeland), a Turkish immigrant who was her drug dealer in college. They fell in love and got married while he was in prison. Now a free man, he went straight and opened a tax consulting business with his wife. One day, she drops off their six-year-old son Rocco (Santana) so she can do a spa day with best friend Birgit (Chancrin, Lose Your Head). On the way out, she spots an unlocked bike and a young woman walking away. When she warns her to lock it up, the woman says she’ll only be a minute. When Katja returns that night, the police have the street blocked off. A bomb went off and killed a man and child. She tells the investigating police what she saw but they’re convinced the bombing is connected to Nuri’s criminal past.

 Eventually, the police figure it out and arrest a German Nazi couple, Andre (Brandhoff, Naked Among Wolves) and Edda (Hilsdorf). The case goes to trial where they’re represented by a junkyard dog defense attorney played by Johannes Krisch (A Cure for Wellness) who employs an outrageous strategy to get his clients acquitted. Despite their guilt being crystal clear, the defendants are found not guilty and set free. Katja decides to take care of the matter herself.

 I love a good revenge scenario. I remain a true fan of the Death Wish franchise even though its verisimilitude disappeared with the second movie. The difference between the Death Wish sequels and In the Fade is obvious. After the first movie, they were never meant to be serious. Akin’s film is meant to be deadly serious, especially in its illustration of the surviving loved ones being the real victims of terrorism. The deaths of her husband and child leave Katja a broken woman who, at one point, attempts suicide. She also starts using drugs again, something that’s ultimately used against her in court. As the movie progresses, Katja’s humanity gradually fades away until she’s no longer recognizable. Up until this point, her character is believable as is the situation. While Katja does not turn into a killing machine, she turns into something resembling an action heroine. At this point, In the Fade ceases to be believable. Don’t get me wrong, I like the movie’s ending. The problem is that it feels out of step with the filmmaker’s loftier intentions.

 Aside from its narrative issues, In the Fade is a damn good movie. It’s riveting from start to finish. The movie itself looks great. It’s crisp and stylish. The aforementioned suicide scene, which takes place in a bathtub, is particularly well done. There’s also a powerful moment outside the courthouse where Katja has a conversation with the father (Tukur, The Lives of Others) of one of the defendants. He’s just testified against his son and is genuinely apologetic for his murderous actions. Horrible circumstances have brought these two people together for a moment in time; you can see how the central crime has affected both of them on a deep level. The score by Josh Homme (of the rock band Queens of the Stone Age) is also quite good. In the Fade is solidly paced and well-acted by all parties. Akin, by way of flashbacks, gives us a real sense of how much Katja loved her family. But it’s Kruger that gives In the Fade its power. Her performance is what really drives it. I always knew she had it in her. It may not be a perfect film but it’s still damn good. 

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