This German film by writer/director Fatih Akin explores the aftermath of a horrific crime: the bombing murder of a husband and son that wipes out the entire family of one woman. While the crime is bad on its own, it’s made worse when the suspects are proven to be members of a neo-Nazi party who only targeted their victims because they weren’t German. Although the film would still work if the widow was also a foreigner, it takes an intriguing approach by utilizing a German character, played exceedingly well by Diane Kruger.
The film initially plays out like an extended episode of Law & Order, tracing the murder investigation through to the identification and capture of suspects who are then put on trial. Akin paces the film well, hampered just a bit by lengthy courtroom proceedings that threaten to bring its momentum to a halt. Once free of the German courtroom, the film shifts into the exciting unknown, as it’s delightfully surprising to see where Akin takes us next. I was left guessing until the end, but was also fully satisfied by the memorable conclusion.
Kruger is a revelation in this movie, contributing a stunning performance as her character moves through the stages of unimaginable grief in an attempt to find some form of lasting peace. Unlike her generally superficial Hollywood roles in films such as Troy, National Treasure, or even perhaps her best-known work in Inglourious Basterds, she’s set free to actually act here, and she makes the most of it. She’s not just playing a weepy widow, she also expertly brings in the character’s tough edges as a former drug addict, adding a believable sense of danger to her steely resolve to find justice. It’s worth noting that her raw performance earned her the Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and surely was the deciding factor in the film’s win for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes.
The movie was very clearly shot on digital, resulting in unfortunate soap-opera effect on the Blu-ray that makes it feel like something less than feature-film quality. Sound is presented in the standard 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, but makes very little use of surround due to the dialogue-heavy nature of the project. The bonus features are remarkably inconsequential, featuring only a few minutes of press-junket interview footage with Kruger and Akin, along with a glimpse of their appearance at Cannes. Although the film doesn’t benefit from fancy tech specs or bonus features, it’s still a compelling project worthy of greater attention.