Katja (Kruger) met Turkish Nuri (Acer) when he was serving four years for marijuana possession. They married while he was still in prison, had a son, and once outside Nuri kept on the straight and narrow, opening a respectable business. But when neo-Nazis plant a bomb outside his shopfront, the resulting explosion killing both him and their young son, Katja seeks solace in drugs and in the hope that kind lawyer Fava (Moschitto) will put those responsible behind bars…
Billed as a thriller with emphasis on Katja’s revenge mission to kill those she feels responsible for her family’s death, you can see where the marketing people were coming from. Because an hour plus of grief and raking over the details of the court case that takes up the bulk of the running time isn’t going to get bums on seats. Yes, she does set out to seek revenge but this development comes very late in the day (over an hour into this story) and is essentially the third act action. But a thriller In The Fade is not.
In adapting Hark Bohm’s novel, writer-director Fatih Akin – best known over here for the documentary The Sound Of Istanbul and the engaging drama The Edge Of Heaven – is able to effortlessly shift genres. Split into chapters, the first segment dramatises the fallout of the bombing and Kruger’s struggle with grief, her dalliance with drugs an attempt to dull the pain. The second segment, which sees her team up with crusading lawyer Moschitto (looking a little like a young Shia Lebeouf) documents the lengthy trial of the two accused (Ulrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf), while the third sees Kruger go rogue, following those behind the bombing to Greece. Akin is after the stages of grief here, deliberately mixing up the process.
While it’s a rather underpowered narrative Akin does keep interest levels high with memorable characters played by strong actors: Johannes Krisch, the self-assured defence lawyer has the deliberately irritating tendency to end every statement with a sharp ‘Danke’. Ulrich Tukur, playing the father of one of the defendants, surprises with having no qualms about testifying against his son as he didn’t raise him to revere Adolf Hitler; the scene outside the courthouse where he and Kruger share a smoke is short but memorable. Akin takes his time getting to the switch up of genre, worming his way into the everyday details of Katja’s life, as he wants the audience to appreciate how an ordinary mother would embark on such a perilous mission.
And then there’s Kruger. In her first real leading role since she caught the eye in Troy, Kruger has a tough job here. And she’s never been better. It’s not the Big Scenes that catch the eye either but the more quiet ones. The grief is etched on her face, and the scene where she can’t bring herself to watch her friend coo over her new born is one of the highlights of a strong turn.