Film Review | In The Fade

Turkish-German director Faith Akin uses the rise of the far-right in Germany as the key base material to construct a taut, compelling revenge thriller-cum-courtroom drama, with some help from a powerhouse performance by Diane Kruger

Split into two distinct parts, announced as such by a black screen with a central caption, an aura of formal control hangs over every frame in Faith Akin’s latest, In the Fade (‘Aus dem Nichts’). This is just as well, as the film – hailed as something of a welcome new foray from an acclaimed Turkish-German filmmaker – is hell-bent on walking an ambitious thematic and narrative tightrope; one that merges topical geo-political concerns with the mechanics of a generic-as-can-be revenge thriller.

After her husband Nuri Sekerci (Numan Acar) and young son Rocco (Rafael Santana) are killed in a terrorist attack in her son’s native Hamburg, Katja (Diane Kruger) is forced to contend with a legal system keen to scrutinise the case based on both her husband’s nationality – he is a Kurd – and his criminal record. Having spent four years in jail for dealing marijuana, Nuri successfully reformed himself, opening a business and starting a family. Contrary to the initial suspicions of the local police but in line with Katja’s own hunch, all signs point towards the attack being perpetrated by a neo-Nazi group. Helped along by lawyer and family friend Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto), Katja is put through the legal wringer.

But justice may not be as forthcoming as she’s led to believe, as the counter-forces reveal themselves keen to exploit every chink in Katja’s already frayed armour.

The cynic in me is tempted to openly declare this as the kind of ‘foreign’ film production whose rights are likely to be expedited into the hands of eager American remake-hounds sooner rather than later; much like what happened with The Secret in Their Eyes, Toni Erdmann and, indeed, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. And while the promotional material for In the Fade – the title of which is sourced from a song by The Queens of the Stone Age, whose frontman Josh Homme penned the film’s score – appears to recall the latter franchise’s hooded-and-badass Lisbeth Salander, Akin’s film, and Kruger’s performance, make for a far less on-the-nose exploration of the repercussions of loss and the justice system’s endemic ability to let the bad guys off the hook.

Still, the genetic link to the kind of genre film that is grist to the mill of the Hollywood machine is very much present and accounted for. Thankfully, however, both Akin and Kruger work in effective tandem to elevate the proceedings to something a little bit psychologically meatier.

As it happens, the meat is delivered up in the first half, where the film also threatens to tip into irredeemable grimness as Katja’s world falls apart in front of her very eyes – the result of a tragedy that also dredges up latent family tensions between her parents and in-laws. But this is also where Kruger gets to shine, channeling a mix of sadness and rage that never devolves into sentimentality. And these initial chapters are also where Akin – who the film’s screenwriter – does the necessary build-up work, creating a tension that comes to a glorious boil come the film’s nail-biting third act.

On reflection, if any comparison to recent Hollywood fare is to be made, In the Fade ties in rather nicely with the award-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Both films pit a lone female protagonist – a grieving mother – against a world that is dead-set against short-circuiting their pursuit of justice. Except that Akin’s film is almost entirely stripped of Martin McDonaugh’s humourous verve in favour of a simpler, icier and more cutting experience.   

The verdict

Grim but gripping, Faith Akin’s latest manages an impressive tightrope walk between the topical and the entertaining, with no small help from a central performance by Diane Kruger that is equal parts wounded and potent. An inside look into the repercussions of far-right hate crimes that are only on the rise, but wrapped up in the genre trappings of a thriller, In the Fade makes for both a conscientious and stylish evening at the movies.