Katja (Diane Kruger) and her lawyer brace themselves for a terrorism trial in the volatile political drama ‘In the Fade.’

Diane Kruger’s revelatory performance steels the poignant thriller ‘In the Fade’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor

It’s Oscar season, which is when established celebs start the talk-show circuit ginning up sympathy for their blockbusters while indie and foreign films scramble for the kind of attention that doesn’t just pad their pockets, but helps their product turn a real profit. A nomination for actress or screenplay or foreign language film can be just the ticket to sell tickets.

The German film In the Fade certainly had reasonable hopes at such an awards bump. It won the Golden Globe and was short-listed for the Oscars, but failed to grab any nominations. That’s kind of remarkable, because Fatih Akin’s politically-charged revenge drama is one of the most viscerally arresting emotional rides of the year.

We only spend a few minutes with Nuri (Numan Acar), a Turkish Kurd working as a translators in Hamburg, and his son Rocco before a terrorist’s fertilizer bomb rips through Nuri’s office, killing them both. The lone survivor of this small family is Katja (Diane Kruger), a white German national devastated by the murders. But her tragedy is continually multiplied as the investigation only generates more horror.

First she’s met with suspicions by the police about the “innocence” of her foreign-born husband. Wasn’t he a former drug runner? Was he political?Wasn’t he a Muslim? Was he, in short, “asking for it”?

Writer-director Fatih Akin’s compelling drama repeatedly redefines itself without ever veering afield of its basic thrust: A character study of the lengths we will go to when hatred drives others and emotion blinds our judgment. He divides the film into three segments, each of which play out as a mini-thriller. In the first, Katja deals with her turmoil of loss and accusation; in the second, she steels herself for a courtroom drama; and in the third, her despair fuels her desire for vengeance.

And at the center of all three is Kruger. I’ll confess I have always thought of her as a capable actress whose abiding beauty allowed her to coast through big-budget spectacles like Troy, National Treasure and even Inglourious Basterds. She showed some chops in the slow-paced border mystery series The Bridge, but nothing really prepared me for the fierceness of her Katja. Kruger writhes in bottomless grief, eventually allowing Katja to be reckless, selfish and pitiable. She then explodes into a primal fury that’s as arresting as anything you’ll witness in a theater. (“Is there any other actress this year who gave as emotionally raw a performance as that one?” asked a friend who screened the movie with me. I admit I was at a loss to name one.)

While the fates of Dreamers dangle amid Washington in-fighting, In the Fade presents a powerful study of how anger and violence against those who are different is terrifying but also wrongheaded and pointless. The Oscar voters might not have seen it, but you still can.                  

Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.