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Originally published Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 3:31 PM

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Movie review

'The Christening': Tension, danger build for 2 friends with mob ties

A movie review of "The Christening," about two friends with ties to the Polish mob who are reunited in Warsaw, Poland, then forced to confront their criminal histories without destroying their hopes for a better future.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Christening,' with Tomasz Schuchardt, Wojciech Zielinski, Natalia Rybicka. Directed by Marcin Wrona, from a screenplay by Dariusz Glazer, Grzegorz Jankowski and Grazyna Trela. 86 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence and profanity). In Polish, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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There's a constant threat of danger and violence throughout "The Christening," and when violence actually erupts it's sudden, disturbing and over in a flash. Because of this and an undeniable knack for creating escalating tension, Polish director Marcin Wrona has been compared (a bit too conveniently) to Nicholas Winding Refn, the Danish director of last year's acclaimed thriller "Drive."

That alone should lure curious viewers to Wrona's sophomore feature, "The Christening" (2009's "My Flesh My Blood" marked his feature debut), but despite its amped-up energy, the film never quite lives up to the promise of its earlier scenes.

Right away, we sense something disturbingly off-kilter about Janek (Tomasz Schuchardt), who returns to Warsaw, Poland, after a stint in the army. In a pre-credit prologue, we see how Janek was saved from drowning by his friend Michal (Wojciech Zielinski).

We soon learn that Michal has ties to the Polish mob, and recently turned informant during a police interrogation. Now he's in debt to the mob, and his money from a good, legitimate job is running out. His days are obviously numbered and he wants Janek, if necessary, to be a surrogate husband and father to his wife, Magda (Natalia Rybicka), and their infant son.

It's one week until the child's christening, and as Wrona arbitrarily chops his shallow thriller into seven daily chapters, we see Michal's life unravel as Janek grows conflicted over his own mob loyalties. Both are tragic figures, and both Schuchardt and Zielinski are encouraged to give intense, over-the-top performances that spin "The Christening" into overwrought melodrama.

Lacking any nuance, the film never recovers from its imbalanced credibility, and it's hard to identify with characters who are so stridently unappealing. Poor Magda is the sensible one; you wish she'd just grab the kid and run away from these losers.

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