“In the Fade,” a thriller by the Turkish-German director
Akin, explores the subject of revenge—and its limits—through a street-smart German woman named
; she’s played with seething purpose by
who has found a role fully worthy of her talent after much too long a time. But the film demonstrates the limits of performance. Superb as
is, there’s nothing she can do to keep the taut, heartfelt narrative from going off the rails.
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The first of three sections, “The Family,” finds Katja where she loves to be, in the warmth and tumult of married life in a Turkish section of Hamburg. She and her Kurdish husband,
), are no angels. He’s an ex-con, a former drug dealer who got caught and got straight. She’s a casual beauty with elegant tattoos that suggest a raffish past. As parents, though, they’re devoted to their son,
a sweet boy with owlish specs who plays the violin, and solid citizens of Germany until a terrorist bomb leaves Katja widowed, childless and all but paralyzed by grief.
At that point two conflicting agendas kick in. For the police, it’s an assumption that a terrorist act in a Turkish neighborhood must somehow be connected with the Muslims or Kurds who live there. For the filmmaker,
who wrote the script with Hark
it’s a desire to address the real-life violence that neo-Nazi groups inflict on Turks living in Germany. The resulting tension is what drives the second section, “Justice,” an engrossing courtroom procedural, and the outcome of the trial is what sends Katja, in a third section called “The Sea,” to a seaside town in Greece, where her purpose does not include sunbathing.
I’ve long admired Mr. Akin’s features: “Head On,” a drama of passion with comic dimensions; “Soul Kitchen,” an anarchic foodie farce; “The Edge of Heaven,” a lyrical mystery fueled by don’t-give-a-damn daring; “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul,” a joyous music documentary. And the summer before last I called Ms. Kruger the dazzling revelation of an ensemble cast in a
thriller called “The Infiltrator.” In other words, I was with “In the Fade” all the way, hoping it would fulfill the potential of its premise. Once in Greece, though, Ms. Kruger’s Katja turns action-heroine in a way that’s more silly than exciting, and Mr. Akin’s sharply drawn film grows clumsy and formulaic. Agendas can weigh artists down, even when they’re devoted to such admirable ends as exposing the hate crimes of white supremacists.