Bomb City [2017] – A Distressing and Thoughtful Fact-Based Drama

Hate and violence is diffused through every culture in the world, and so any gruesome crime committed in a fit of fury conveys few universal truths about the polarized communities. The killing of 19-year old Brian Deneke that occurred in Amarillo, Texas in 1997 deftly portrayed in Bomb City (2017) tells one such timeless and timely tale; timely, because of the current levels of social and political division in America. Tensions had long been simmering between high school football players (jocks) and punk rockers (punks), both white-skinned. Conformity is the most sought out quality in this conservative town, where the teenagers are often angry, bored, and restless. After a nice soccer game in the evening, the youngsters blow off steam by arranging beer parties and cruising the streets in daddy’s car. But the punk rockers with their Mohawk hair, heavy steel chains, and leather jackets engraved with image of skull and crossbones represent cataclysm and chaos for the church-going, upper middle-class community. Director Jameson Brooks sharply indicates this rift in the movie’s earlier portion, delineating how the narrative is much more than one youngster’s murder.

Debutant film-maker Jameson Brooks and his co-writer Sheldon Chick are Amarillo natives, whose colorful observations regarding social expectations of the town provide an array of impressive moments. Both Brooks and Chick have also humanized the characters on both sides, without making one side entirely good or bad. The title not only refers to Amarillo’s close proximity to the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant, but also denotes the cultural conflict that ticks like a bomb. Dave Davies plays the role of doomed protagonist Brian Deneke, a green Mohawk-haired youngster and a member of the local punk scene. He is living away from his caring, working-class parents and shacked up in a dilapidated warehouse with his friends. The place also serves as their music venue.

Jameson Brooks opens the movie in a riveting fashion. It’s night time in Amarillo. A gale blows through the empty neon-lit streets. The only human presence is seen in the parking lot, where two groups of teenagers are getting prepared to smash each other. Just as the fight is about to pick up, the shot is cut to the bright Amarillo courtroom, a moody buttoned-up lawyer (Glenn Morshower) holding the punk’s jacket, imprinted with words ‘Destroy everything’ (actually a reference to Deneke’s favorite band, Filth which calls for ‘destroying our preconceptions’). The lawyer laments about the message we want to bestow our children for generations to come. Soon, it becomes clear this man is not prosecuting the murderer, but rather vilifying the victim (from his choice of clothing to music) to justify the cold-blooded murder perpetrated by his client. Then the narrative moves back in time to scrutinize the build-up to inevitable violence.

Brooks largely succeeds in putting the viewers in the shoes of Brian Deneke, a member of an often maligned sub-culture. The script showcases how for Brian, punk music was a means to express his frustration and anger about life and everything. He is enthused about a teenager attending his punk music concert. He slightly frowns when the girl (Maemae Renfrow) he likes lit up a cigarette. Brooks and Chick although doesn’t depict Brian as a martyr, their sympathies clearly lie with these alleged oddballs. Early when the band plays their loud music, Brooks juxtaposes it with the ferocity found in a Friday Night game. For all their hostilities, the two groups are shown to be embracing different means available to burn their excessive testosterone. The football doesn’t go well for the home team. Cody Cates (Luke Shelton), a baby-faced junior player laments about their defeat with his bros in a snack hut. In comes Brian's friends for a coffee, and Cody to fit in among his bros, addresses Brian with a, “whats-up, faggot?” The ensuing minor verbal altercation foreshadows the bloody ones to follow.

The film depicts the irreparable crime of 17 year old jock Cody (pseudonym for real perpetrator Dustin Camp) in a hard-hitting, clear-cut manner. However, the real villains of the story are the ones who judged this shameful case in Amarillo courthouse. Defense attorney Warren Clark’s (in real-life it was Cameron Wilson) declamations would seem like exaggerated writing, but most of his hateful words were actually ripped directly from the courtroom transcript. He unashamedly exploits the jury members’ prejudices, painting the punks as violent miscreants and their opposers as pillars of the church-going community. The final light sentence of Cody Cates (Dustin Camp) that shocked the community perfectly represents the privilege and baseless biases saturated throughout every facet of the society (including the judicial system; the judge presiding Brian Deneke’s case feared reprisals, and even sealed the names of the jurors).

Brooks’ directorial technique to cut back and forth (between courtroom and past events), and doling out information in parcels, largely helps examining the dynamics within the clique and hostilities between them. There’s certainly a lack of restraint in the way the director overtly and repeatedly depicts the thematic intentions. And, at times the visual flourishes overwhelm the emotions or intimacy portrayed on-screen (for example, Brian and his girl friend Jade’s moment of intimacy in the grass fields). Despite such unsubtle or loud techniques, Brooks’ sharp characterizations allow us to fully immerse ourselves in the raging cultural battlefield. The most commendable aspect of the writing is not turning Brian’s killer into a one-dimensional bad guy. After the sad incident, the camera is placed inside Cody’s car, as the teenager’s adrenaline rush is slowly replaced with self-awareness and outright panic (Shelton is excellent in this scene). Of course, Cody’s lack of remorse eventually makes us despise him, but the film-maker refrains from judging him or presenting him as an inhuman creature.

One of the interesting inventive choices is to include Marilyn Manson’s post-Columbine speech on ‘blame and violence’ which is heard in parts in the opening and ending of the narrative (he mentioned Deneke’s death in the speech). Manson’s speech may indicate a specific moment in the late 90s in America (he forlornly questions, “Is adult entertainment killing our children? Or is killing our children entertaining adults?”). But the cliques, consisting of teenagers desperately desiring to blend-in as well as stand-out, is present in all cultures since the intolerant society continues to judge/punish individuals by their outward appearances. In this fashion, Bomb City (95 minutes) is a deft observation of male angst and also makes an impassioned statement on the perils of social conformity and ostracization.  


Love, Simon [2018] – An Utterly Predictable Yet Endearing ‘Coming-Out’ Tale

Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon (2018) has all the familiar, if not pesky, traits of the American mainstream coming-of-age film: a white ‘normal’ teenager from a typical super-rich suburban neighborhood; his liberal & lovely but awkward parents: a diverse range of friends, one of whom is an ‘talented’ introvert who spouts ‘deep’ wisdom; few quirky teens affixed here and there for comic effects; the sneering & easily detestable bullies; and of course, the superficially exciting montage sequences that opens and closes the film, accompanied by a ubercool soundtrack, to make us enthralled and submit to the gleaming beauty of the ‘American Dream’. Sometimes I do get so annoyed at watching these ‘crushing problems’ of the wealthy neighborhood teen that I wanna shout at them: ‘Godammit! Get out of your beautified bubble and find a little perspective’. But of course there are many good American flicks on adolescence that better explores the existential quandaries of the age-group, without making us to withhold the wicked thought of slapping around the on-screen characters. Love, Simon falls somewhere in the middle. Its framework dutifully possesses the sappy mainstream stuff, yet it has one pivotal narrative element that kind of works to its favor.

Based on Becky Albertali’s YA novel ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’, the story revolves around Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), who takes pains to establish that he is a ‘normal’ guy (“My name is Simon, and I’m just like you…” – although these words take different meaning a little later in the narrative). He has unbelievably gorgeous and understandably awkward parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), an eccentric cookery-obsessed younger sister (Talitha Bateman), a close-set of friends who daily carpool their way to high-school together analyzing dreams, drinking way too much iced coffee, and gorging on carbs. Despite this onslaught of 'normalcy', we could understand our protagonist's desire to hold onto his lovingly crafted limited world; to preserve the golden moments of budding youth even though life never fails to swiftly dismantle it. And, Simon truly feels that the life he experiences might change if his ‘big’ secret comes out to light: that he is gay.  

As I mentioned earlier, there’s something too syrupy and bland about this movie. But there’s also something undeniably powerful in learning that Love, Simon is the first major studio production (Fox2000 & released by 20th Century Fox) to grapple with gay teen romance. If American studios are producing shallow coming-of-age by dozens in a year, why not make a single charming, well-intentioned yet mediocre movie on a gay teen protagonist? This off-screen achievement that made possible for Love, Simon to release in thousands of theaters within US soil somehow marks it as a special moment in cinematic history. Like the highest grossing gay-themed romantic drama Brokeback Mountain (2005), Love Simon is seen as the step in the right direction, taken from a behemoth film-industry towards true inclusion and representation (although ‘Simon’ doesn’t possess the brilliance of Ang Lee’s masterwork). Naturally, the film has also faced heavy criticisms, especially from Queer pundits, questioning the cliched romantic permutations. Nevertheless, despite succumbing to the pitfalls of coming-of-age narrative the dramatization of Simon’s struggle and confusion is ultimately moving. It’s upbeat and life-affirming ‘coming-out’ story-line has a slight edge over the banal ‘coming-of-age’ narrative elements. 

Simon’s universe isn’t largely homophobic. His father cracks few awkward jokes about homosexuality, and there is couple of bullies at school who teases another openly gay boy Ethan (the incredible Clark Moore). But the community on the whole is tolerant and liberal-minded. Simon knows that his happily-married parents would understand him. He’s also sure about the support of his photogenic best pals – Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and Abby (Alexandra Shipp). But he doesn’t want to risk things now, especially when college is just around the corner. Simon even daydreams about dancing to a fantastical rainbow-colored musical at the university. At the same time, he also takes few tentative steps to shred his closeted status. When an anonymous classmate declares himself gay on a gossiping school blog, Simon (after hiding his identity) starts exchanging e-mails with him. The anonymous e-mailer writes under the pseudonym ‘Blue’, whereas Simon assumes the name ‘Jacques’. The mail exchanges offer Simon to confess his inner feelings which he couldn’t convey to his straight friends and family members. Unfortunately, a troublesome classmate Martin (Logan Miller) finds out Simon’s correspondence with ‘Blue’ and threatens to reveal it unless Simon sets him up with Abby. Martin’s blackmailing complicates Simon’s newfound love for the unseen ‘Blue’ and further makes him to invade the lives of his closest friends.

Few critics have called Love, Simon as the Disney version of the recent Oscar-nominated ‘Call Me By Your Name’. Yes, there are quite a few clunkier aspects in Greg Berlanti’s direction (an openly gay man who has already made a wonderful dramedy about a group of gay pals titled‘The Broken Hearts Club’) and Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger’s script which feels more like trying to assimilate ‘gayness’ into the ‘straight’ culture. Still, the effort taken by a studio feature to project a gay protagonist and that too in a positive and emboldening manner gives a lot of hope about near-future mainstream projects. Simon does come off as a guy with zero personality, whose defining trait in the whole narrative is that he is a closeted gay. In fact, none of the characters are what we could call well-developed. The dynamics between the friends are no way interesting like the superlative teen dramas of John Hughes. But the performers playing these underwritten or vacuous characters are irresistibly charming. Nick Robinson is at his best when he conveys Simon’s loneliness & alienation despite being at a supportive environment. Simon’s longing to make the transition smooth by coming out on his own terms are well invested with real depthful emotions by Robinson. The actors mostly make the cliched scenes watchable; Garner and Duhamel bring something genuine into their blandly written scenes with vexed Simon. Besides director Berlanti infuses certain good crowd-pleasing moments, for eg, the teacher standing up against the bullies or the fairy-tale ending with two guys on a date atop the Ferris wheel. Altogether, ‘Love, Simon’ (110 minutes) won’t find itself in a nifty position within the queer movie classics list, but an engaging and heartwarming movie nonetheless. 


Hostiles [2017] – An Elegiac and Morally Complex Western

No other genre better illuminates the myth surrounding the ‘Great American Hero’ like Western genre. The original image of the Wild West with its romanticized creation of cowboys represented the ideal of American white man’s individualist freedom. Before the dominance of American superheroes in mainstream entertainment, it was the image of strong, silent frontiersmen & cowboys which gained serious international popularity. Buried beneath this alleged hero’s charming surface lay the monstrous notions: the denial of Native American mass killings, justifications cooked-up to encroach their lands, etc. In a way, the old Western heroes remain unruffled or overtly support segregation, racism, and social ostracism. Of course, this fascinating genre kept reinventing itself like its nation. The old masters of cinema John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann, etc made magnificent Western cinema, although it was accused of lacking ambiguity and moral complexity. That changed with the entry of fiercely independent film-makers like Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Samuel Fuller, Robert Altman, and Arthur Penn. The genre continued to ruminate on the characteristics of ‘Great American hero’ in which his ‘greatness’ was scrutinized and ridiculed endlessly. After the 1990s, directors Clint Eastwood, the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and many other independent film-makers kept on redefining the heroes, villains, and their brutish life in Wild West (Movies like ‘Assassination of Jesse James’, and ‘Meek’s Cutoff ' were the kind of eerie, existential Westerns that reminds us of the works of Monte Hellman and Budd Boetticher). Scott Cooper’s Hostiles (2017) might well be a fresh, interesting addition to this ever-changing, glorious genre. It mostly avoids the age-old tropes of barbaric Natives and noble white saviors and rather focuses on the endless brutalities carried out to carve out the American frontier.

‘Hostiles’ is Scott Cooper’s fourth feature film and so far his best. Here he comes a lot closer to achieve the excellence, which he failed to do so with his watchable slow-burn dramas: Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, and Black Mass. Hostiles does contain the dull character dynamics and feels drawn out like Cooper’s other movies. Yet it’s take on the themes of racism, hatred, and violence from a morally interesting position strongly resonates with truth. Writer/director Cooper sets the bleak tone by opening the film with D.H. Lawrence’s quote: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” The film is set in the year 1892, in American Southwest. The peace enjoyed by the frontier family of five (mom, dad, two little daughters, and an infant boy) is invaded by the arrival of Commanche raiding party. The tribesmen have come for the horses, but without any remorse they shoot-down the husband and the three children. The shell-shocked wife named Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) barely survives from the riders.

The derogatory term ‘hostiles’ was used to dehumanize the independent Natives. And, this opening scene involving renegade group of Commanche seems to very well justify the use of the term. But very soon, we see the ‘hostiles’ at the other end. A group of US cavalry soldiers, led by sullen-faced Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), taunts and belittles a captured Native American family, which has tried to escape from the harsh reservation premise. Captain Joe Blocker is revealed to be a hardened military veteran, who has spent his long career massacring and fighting Native Americans. He has dispassionately learned all the things he wanted to know about his enemy. He oversees the Natives’ torture and believes it’s the only way to treat them. The next day the Captain’s superior (Stephen Lang) calls him and commands to lead a convoy from Arizona to Montana to safely escort Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family. The cancer-ridden Chief was confined to a little cell for years, and now wishes to peacefully die back in his family’s sacred lands in Montana.

Not surprisingly, Joe Blocker resists the assignment and even vehemently questions his superior’s decision to set the Chief free. It is revealed that Chief Yellow Hawk is responsible for the deaths of several of Joe’s friends and a sworn enemy at the war. The superior threatens to hold over Joe’s pension. Eventually the Captain puts together a convoy, consisting of his traumatized second-in-command, Metz (Rory Cochrane), and three inexperienced soldiers: Kidder (Jesse Plemons), Woodsen (Jonathan Majors), and Private DeJardin (Timothée Chalamet). Accompanying the Chief are: son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), daughter, Black Hawk’s wife (Q’orianka Kilcher), and their child. As one could expect, the convoy come across Rosalie Quaid and her slaughtered family. She’s initially revolted by the sight of Chief and his family. But after contemplating suicide, she eventually joins the troupe and becomes a force of humanity. Most importantly, Joe Blocker’s journey with Yellow Hawk encourages him to see past all the historical brutalities and recognize the need for common ground. Joe’s transformation isn’t spelled out in sentimental, clear-cut terms, but the slow passage of space and time brings about calmness within him. Of course, we know where the narrative is going and at times we perfectly foresee its dark turns. However, a handful of touching scenes, nuanced performances, and gorgeous visuals keep us emotionally invested in this protracted narrative. 

Scott Cooper’s screenplay was based on an original manuscript by late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart. He has penned the Oscar winning script for Costa-Garvas’ Missing (1982), and adapted three Tom Clancy novels. The basic idea for the film was found in Mr. Stewart’s unfinished manuscript. It’s a very sentimental idea, which Cooper tries to transcend through his morally ambiguous characters. Although it’s a film that calls for empathy and peace among different races, it also vividly focuses on the dehumanizing nature of violence. The violent acts are sudden, shocking, and denies cathartic emotions (may be except for the final shoot-out). Director Cooper nearly succeeds in the way he weaves path of redemption or enlightenment for Joe Blocker without overtly offending our sensibilities. Nevertheless, the narrative would have felt well-rounded if due focus was given to the development of its Native characters. Wes Studi, with his piercing eyes expressing buried anguish, ably carries his underwritten character, but the other Native characters have far less headroom to develop their roles. Due consideration was given to showcase the indomitable spirit and humanity of Rosamund Pike’s character (Mrs. Quaid). The Cheyenne family could also have used that kind of portrayal. In the end, the Native characters are pushed to the periphery and the trauma of white male occupies the center. It’s somewhat disappointing and undercuts its impact, considering how long stretches of the movie lingered on the two racially divided groups’ shared humanity.

Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the grizzled Captain. He plays the character with quiet intensity and uses minimal gestures to channel through the man’s deep prejudice. Ben Foster is an effective addition to the mix, who plays a former compatriot of the Captain. Foster character’s deep-rooted bigotry is used to gracefully exhibit the humanity still prevailing within Captain Joe. The astounding location cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi beautifully sweeps across the arid and lush landscapes, injecting solace and tranquility to the otherwise brutal episodes.

Hostiles (133 minutes) is definitely a well-intentioned, politically conscious Western narrative blessed with soul-stirring performances. Film-maker Scott Cooper’s attempt to discharge the Western genre’s atrocious generalizations and falsely idealized past is highly commendable, even though its final portions are slightly unsatisfying and troubling. 


In the Fade [2017] – A Moving Drama about a Hate Crime that falls short of Brilliance

Fatih Akin, German film-maker of Turkish descent,  is best known for making devastating dramas that gleam with quiet intensity. His culturally hybrid or transnational cinema often piercingly explores the human condition within the alleged cultural boundaries. Through eclectic mix of genre templates, Akin zeroes-in on themes of migration, identity crisis, mourning, grief, love, and death. What’s interesting about Akin’s works is his ability to evoke visceral reactions or potent range of emotions by playing with viewers’ preconceptions about the rigid constructs of race and gender. Fatih Akin reached the peak of his directorial powers with intricately structured narratives in Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007). The director’s stab at comedy in Soul Kitchen (2009) was a welcome change. But I didn’t like The Cut (2014), a disappointing drama on Armenian Genocide, and Tschick (2016), a pretentious buddy adventure flick. However, In the Fade ('Aus dem Nichts', 2017) marks Fatih Akin’s return to ferociously compelling narrative. Although executed with precision, the film does feel a bit unconvincing. Yet Akin’s brilliant formalism combined with a bravura performance from German-American actress Diane Kruger (her first role in a German production even though she played a German character in ‘Inglorious Basterds’) makes In the Fade an engrossing revenge melodrama.

Using minimal visual choices and precise details, Akin opens the movie by conveying the love and family life of Katja (Diane Kruger) and Nuri (Numan Acar). A smartphone captures a man in a suit gleefully walking in a prison yard, accepting the cheers of his inmates. Later, he marries a blonde-haired woman with rings tattooed on their fingers. Nuri is a convicted drug dealer, but a fully reformed man after marriage. Few years later, we see the couple still madly in love and they have a smart, adorable kid as a result of that. The question of how these two individuals came together might be haunting at the back of our mind, but their love for each other (expressed through simple gestures of intimacy) seems genuine and utterly convincing. Katja takes her son Rocco (Rafael Santana) to his father’s office, in order to spend some time with her pregnant sister. Nuri is now running a tax consulting firm (in a storefront office), which specializes in aiding immigrants. From the glow in Katja and Nuri’s face, it’s clear that Rocco is physical evidence of their life’s transformation and transcendence. Katja says her goodbyes, without knowing it would be her last time seeing them.

After returning from visiting her sister, Katja is shocked by the sight of police barricades near her husband’s office. The authorities say Nuri and Rocco are killed in an explosion, caused by a makeshift bomb made out of fertilizer, diesel fuel, and nails. Furthermore, she learns that their bodies are so badly damaged that they can't be identified without a DNA test. Earlier, as Katja heads out from her husband’s office, she sees a young German woman (Hannah Hilsdorf), leaving an unlocked bicycle on the street in front of the office. Katja believes that the cold-blooded murders are orchestrated by a neo-nazi group. But as if the emotional devastation of losing her family isn’t enough, the authorities insult her memory of Nuri by investigating his past links with drug-dealing immigrant mafia. The police suggest Nuri might have relapsed and renewed his underworld connection. Katja’s Kurdish in-laws vehemently place the blame on her. Her own mother thinks the worst about Nuri. Burdened by crushing grief, Katja unapologetically uses drugs (a habit which initially introduced her to Nuri), which also falls under the scrutiny of the investigators. Nevertheless, the real culprits are arrested soon: Hitler-loving neo-nazis Edda and Andre Moller (Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff). Katja attaches herself as co-plaintiff and seeks the help of lawyer friend, Danilo (Dennis Moschitto). Will she get justice? And even if she did, will that stop her hitting rock bottom with grief?   

Fatih Akin delves directly into the heart of the matter, dividing his narrative into simple chapters – ‘Family’, ‘Justice’, and ‘Sea’. He elegantly moves through these varied settings with an incontestable effectiveness. Akin includes few elements of American revenge thrillers, starting from the false leads to the drawn out suspenseful sequences in the final portion. While the first two chapters firmly attunes to emotional reality of Katja, the third chapter tries to teeter away from realism and embrace melodrama or certain kitschy notions. As the film’s end text says, the narrative is based on real-life, notorious murder spree of Kurdish and Turkish businessmen by neo-Nazis in Germany in the early 2000s that went unsolved for years. For the majority portion of its running time, ‘In the Fade’ stands as an impressive (universal) study of grief, loss, love and hatred. To suddenly turn it into a narrow commentary on Germany hate crimes through the underwhelming ‘Hollywoodized’ third act, the movie falls short of being one of Akin’s career best.  The end text only seems to assuage the total emptiness we feel from the bland finish. It tries to infuse an impetus to the final act where there’s actually none. 

In the Fade’s disappointing final act is all the more troubling because up to that point (until the courtroom sequences), Akin’s aesthetic flourishes and Diane Kruger’s grief-eaten facade are compulsively watchable. In one of the more memorable visual flourishes, the camera spins over Katja’s bathtub as it gradually reveals her slit wrists which turn the water into red (cinematography by Akin regular RainerKlausmann). Akin does his best to keep the courtroom scenes dynamic. He deftly shoots all the action going around the courtroom, yet keeping Katja’s emotions as the center of focus. The first chapter that entirely revolves around Katja is filled with her expression of consuming anguish. In the second chapter, she is kept at the periphery as the killers’ defense attorney, Haberbeck (Johannes Krisch) takes a cruel line of approach to water-down the nature of his clients’ racist views. Nevertheless, Akin includes crisp, effective shots to convey Katja’s simmering rage (which we share too); an approach that retains emotional power despite slow, methodical sifting of evidence. In one haunting scene, an expert witness casually describes the myriad of wounds in Rocco’s mangled body. Akin uses split focus shots in this scene which place Katja in the foreground, showcasing how the expert’s words are intensifying her inner pain. More interesting is the very final scene, when Katja emerges from a muddled, unfocused shot which clearly states her line of action.

The narrative is also rife with symbolic treatment of things and simple gestures, starting from Katja wearing Nuri’s glasses, the snow-stacked unused trampoline, the samurai tattoo, Rocco’s toy car, etc. Equally good are the use of different color palettes: after saturating the initial portions with darkness, Akin moves to sanitized white in the courtroom scenes and ends it up with scenic sun-kissed shots (the shot of Kruger walking in the sunny wheat field, her hair matching the color of wheat radiates with benign beauty). Ultimately, the film belongs to Diane Kruger’s worn-out, fury-ridden face. She dutifully immerses herself into the role, whether her character faces emotionally grueling insults or silently contemplates her anguish or dives headlong into action. The mere close-ups of Kruger’s make-up-less face sharply demonstrate Katja’s psychological disintegration than any expressive dialogues (Kruger’s Katja brought her the ‘best actress’ award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and as expected it set a precedent for her getting snubbed at the Oscars).

In the Fade (105 minutes) is a visually impressive revenge/courtroom drama that’s ultimately too muddled to deliver an efficient commentary on the normalized xenophobia within European sociopolitical structures. However, it mostly works as a meditation on grief, loss and senseless violence thanks to an emotionally wrought performance from Diane Kruger.