A few months back we were treated to “American Assassin,” a simple-minded action movie in which a young American seeks revenge on the terrorists who killed his fiancée, joining a special branch of the CIA in the process. Fatih Akin’s new film has a similar plot, but couldn’t be more different. Depending more on words than mayhem, it’s a thriller that’s somber, slow-moving and quietly heartbreaking.

Diane Kruger, in her first German-language film, plays Katja, who in the opening sequence marries Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar), a drug-dealer just released from prison. Some years later they’re living contently with their darling young son Rocco (Rafael Santana).

One day Katja drops Rocco off at Nuri’s office to have a day at the spa with her chum Brigit (Samia Chancrin). When she returns, she finds to her horror that a bomb had been placed outside the building. She eventually learns that her husband and son have died in the blast.

Knowing of Nuri’s past, and his Turkish lineage, the police suspect that he was killed by criminal associates, but devastated Katja—who in her depression even attempts suicide—dismisses that possibility, as does her lawyer friend Danilo (Denis Moschitto). And she is correct: the perpetrators are eventually found—a neo-Nazi couple, André and Edda Möller (Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf); indeed, Katja had seen Edda leave the bicycle containing the bomb at the curb while departing for the spa.

At their trial, Danilo offers a spirited case for the prosecution, but the defense attorney, Haberbeck (Johannes Krisch)—who looks as if he might have been a guard at Auschwitz, and uses every underhanded trick he can—sows sufficient doubt to secure an acquittal.

Katja is emotionally destroyed a second time, and decides to pursue vengeance herself, going to Greece, where a witness, who obviously perjured himself by providing an alibi for the Möllers, lives. After a dangerous encounter with him, she tracks down the guilty couple to a caravan that they have set up on the coast and prepares to surprise them in a poetically just fashion and deal with her own grief.

Kruger is definitely the film’s lynchpin, giving a performance that conveys deep reservoirs of emotion without becoming showy, but the supporting cast is formidable as well. Pride of place is taken by the opposing counsels—Moschitto’s righteous Danilo and Krisch’s sinister Haberbeck, both of whom excel in the long courtroom scenes. But there are telling turns from others—especially Hilsdorf as the serpentine Edda, Ulrich Tukur as her sorrowful father, and little Santana as the child Rocco, whose reappearances in the home movies Katja obsessively watches may be manipulative, but work because he’s such a darling kid. The technical credits are uniformly solid, with Tamo Kunz’s production design and Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography creating a darkly morose mood even in scenes that are brightly lit, while Andrew Bird’s unrushed editing adds to the atmosphere, as does the varied score by Joshua Homme.

“In the Fade” subverts the crude expectations that a meretricious piece like “American Assassin” willingly succumbs to, becoming a far more moving and credible film in the process.