Germany may have backed the wrong horse with their entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards. Although director Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven) had the noblest of intentions when using his latest film to raise awareness of the nationalistic hate crimes that continue to plague his homeland, his battle cry lands with a resounding thud. In the Fade aims to showcase the residual effects of Germany’s unspeakable past, but it gets bogged down in tiresome courtroom drama before spiraling out of control into an all-out, run-of-the-mill vigilante thriller.
The film opens with cell phone video footage of Katja (Diane Kruger, in her first German-language role since 2009’s Inglourious Basterds) entering into wedded bliss with Turkish immigrant Nuri (Numan Acar, Homeland) upon his release from prison. Cut to five years later, where the couple has built a stable life for themselves and their young son Rocco (Rafael Santana). However, on a seemingly average day, Katja returns to pick up her family at her husband’s tax consulting firm, only to find that Nuri and Rocco were killed in a mysterious nail bomb explosion.
In the Fade is firemans carried by its not-so-secret weapon, Diane Kruger, who rightly took home gold at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Whether she is playing a grieving mother, a teetering narcotics addict, or a vengeful Liam Neeson stand-in, she understands every note the script calls for, even when it gets tangled in a web of conflicting tones and sloppy pacing. Kruger knows how to work the cripplingly dramatic moments, and she can convincingly turn on a dime and become a take-no-prisoners badass. Although the film never clearly defines her character, she never falters, and her performance stands amongst her most affecting work to date.
Of course, the movie’s gravest sin is that it seems bent on having its cake and eating it to, no matter how stale it becomes. Presumably so he can appeal to every demographic imaginable, writer-director Fatih Akin aims for a handful of genres, but he doesn’t spend any energy linking them together. In the Fade could easily be divided into three disjointed chunks — the domestic emotional gut-punch, the lengthy courtroom slog, and the diet Kill Bill style revenge story — and none of them ever finds a way to interlock with the other two. What’s worse, each of them seems to be giving us a watered down version of better movies from recent memory.
There are unsettling images within the film that are sure to stand out in the minds of its viewers — particularly the more squeamish ones — but the tale they are wrapped up in is far too murky to earn any genuine resonance. As Katja goes off the rails, her actions become too ludicrous to be even remotely believable. Unfortunately, as Akin uses his protagonist as a pawn in his political allegory, he has stripped her of the traits which make her sympathetic. As 2017 comes to a close, it is comforting to see Nazis getting their comeuppance, but the rest of In the Fade is little more than a reminder of how far we’ve left to go.