Diane Kruger, as grieving mother and wife Katja Şekerci, elevates Fatih Akin’s rote revenge drama, In the Fade.
Since Inglourious Basterds, where Kruger played a daring resistance agent undone by a Nazi’s foot fetish, I knew she was one to look out for. Unfortunately, aside from tense courtroom scenes and Kruger’s emotionally-wrenching performance, this revenge drama may as well be any other revenge drama out there.
Katja is a loving mother to Rocco, and supportive husband to Nuri, who is Turkish. One day, Katja leaves Rocco with her husband and goes to visit her sister. The camera lingers on Rocco’s cute, bespectacled face just a bit too long and before you know it, Katja’s running and screaming her way into a police cordon amidst the wreckage of what was once Nuri’s tax and translation business for the Turkish community. Gerard Butler can tell you what happens next. So can Mel Gibson, Keanu Reeves, Jodie Foster, Charlize Theron, Taraji P. Henson, and Uma Thurman.
So we like our revenge stories. But, I can’t help wanting something more, something unique. There are unique moments, to be fair: they are just spaced far apart in this predictable, paint by numbers story that attempts to showcase the loneliness and despair of a life where one’s loved ones are torn asunder.
Moments of complexity are highlighted by pointed visuals: the shadows of the rain flicking on Katja’s face, making you think of blood. The combination of blood and Rocco’s pirate ship toy. Katja sobbing on Rocco’s bunk, which comes complete with a slide. And then there are scenes with fresh drama: Katja’s tension-filled interactions with her mom and the in-laws as they seek to play the blame game and make decisions regarding where burial will take place. The tense German trial featuring Nuri’s drug-dealing lawyer fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the killers are put in jail. These were all little sparks of originality, but the train of the revenge drama kept going full speed ahead, and certain boxes had to be checked off. The titles of the three chapters hint at this as well: 1. The Family, 2. Justice, and 3. The Sea.
While Kruger does Katja proud, infusing her with infinite varieties of grief, depression and rage, the other characters are not given such complexity. We do not see the other characters infused with life beyond their stereotypical roles, and therefore, we cannot invest in their humanity or come to care about them (I make an exception for the cute, bespectacled boy, but, please, that’s a low hanging fruit). The villains are revealed to be from an extremist group, but little information is given about what motivates that group’s pursuit of hatred and violence. My fear is that we are relying too heavily on stock villain archetypes without going deeper to see the social forces at play that help create such monsters.
This is a film that grasps at brilliance, but chooses to play it safe. Thankfully, Kruger doesn’t, and I am encouraged to seek her better projects.