Based on a series of Belgian comic books, The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (or just Largo Winch in countries where the character is popular) is a globe-trotting action-thriller filled with car chases, steamy romance, and diabolical double-crosses. Largo (Tomer Sisley) is a dashing young man with a penchant for the extreme and doing things the hard way; after initiating a high-speed escape from a prison he's already being let out of, he discovers that he's just inherited a multi-billion dollar empire. It sounds like fun, but that's exactly the tone the film is oddly lacking.
Take Largo himself, for example. There's no denying that Sisley has a detatched cool that seems to fit the character, but that indeterminate level of emotional enthusiasm is the only note that director Jérôme Salle ever asks Sisley to play, over and over again, for the entire 108 minute runtime. Largo beats up some thugs: detached cool. Largo discovers he's a billionaire: detached amusement. Largo discovers his father, Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlović) may have been murdered: detached concern. At least James Bond had a wry sense of humor.
The film adapts two volumes of the original comic book (or four issues) and repurposes them into a single story arc. The film is heavy with exposition and yet slow on the uptake. Largo is an adopted heir to the Winch empire, kept secret in order to protect him from danger. When Largo's father turns up dead, Largo is hanging out on the other side of the world, and the film takes too long getting the character up to speed and into the real mystery. Worse, it climbs out of one hole only to fall into another: Largo must prove his kinship with a document, leading to a fairly dull section where Largo must get to the document without showing his hand too early, lest someone steal it. Meanwhile, for an action thriller, there's plenty of characters (like Kristin Scott Thomas as the temporary CEO of the Winch Corporation, and a sniveling Karel Roden as Winch's biggest competitor) talking about business deals, all with the air of a double-cross or two to arrive in time for the big finale. The one thread that actually works is Largo's bond with his "mother" (Anne Consigny), the woman who helped care for him when Nerio wasn't around, and Bojana Panic makes a brief impression as a doctor who seems destined to return in sequels.
Some of the film's plodding nature could've been overlooked if Largo Winch was a fun action movie, but it flounders in that department as well. Although they build up Largo as a guy who can kick plenty of ass, he rarely gets a chance other than a brief fight introducing his character and another brief fight at the end, while the rest of the film's action is made up of chase sequences. Not only are these sequences lacking in invention and the crucial "oooh!" factor that one gets out of a well-placed, painful-looking stunt, they're indicative of the movie's bigger problems: we don't care enough about the villain, Largo, or the battle between the two characters enough to really get into these supposedly dramatic sequences.
Looking at the comic book covers, it's hard to believe the comics aren't good, old-fashioned fun: fancy parties with secret assassins, beautiful women, cheesy one-liners, martinis. Sadly, the film version is disappointly modern in style and execution -- this is a dark film, set too much in the real world, and concerned more about the business dealings that got Largo's father his millions than the people out to try and steal them.
Before watching the film, the cover art suggests international intrigue in a major city, complete with a smirk and a stylish suit. After watching the movie, it looks like a glossy Photoshop illustration with drab colors. Then again, the back cover looks like the latter either way, so maybe I shouldn't have been fooled. The disc arrives in an eco-case (the kind with holes punched in it), and there is an insert inside the case promoting the comic book the movie is based on.
The Video and Audio
Largo Winch gets a decent 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Detail appears pretty strong for an SD-DVD title, although in a couple of shots (such as a wide shot of the ocean), I noticed some ugly noise, and in others (on complicated surfaces), some aliasing and moire patterns. Beyond that, however, the film is stylized in a way that inadvertently disguises potential picture imperfections: colors are pushed, turning skintones orange and whites a bit gray, and contrast is cranked up, creating deep, inky blacks that might be crushing but might simply be intentionally flat.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty good. The birds surrounding a jungle prison, the voices in a crowded conference hall, and the occasional action sequence all sound nice and atmopsheric on this track. The film's score also sounds quite good and dialogue is well-balanced compared to the music and effects. The packaging misleadingly notes that the disc contains "French and English Dolby Digital 5.1," but what it really means is that it contains a 5.1 track for the film's mix of French and English dialogue (as well as an unadvertised 2.0 track). Some people will probably dislike the fact that there is only one subtitle track on the disc covering both languages -- if you don't understand French, you have to watch the subtitles for the English dialogue too.
"The Making of Largo Winch" (25:14) is a nice overview of the making of the film. There's a fair amount of footage from the film itself included in the documentary, which is almost always an issue, but the well-paced editing of the mix here makes this feature an easy watch. As this is a French making-of featurette, optional subtitles are included for the French speakers, and there are burned-in subtitles for the English comments.
The other major extra here is a digital comic of "The Heir," the first of the Largo Winch books. A nice idea and an appreciated gesture, but I cannot imagine, having glanced at this gallery, that anyone would take the time to read the comic this way. Would've been better to include it as a booklet or as a digital download that one could read on their computer or tablet instead of struggling to decipher the text on their TV.
Trailers for Gainsbourg, Viva Riva!, Maxmanus, and Henning Mankell's "Wallander" play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Largo Winch is also included.
I watched Largo Winch with a friend who found it to be decent entertainment, but personally, I felt it lacked the devilish spark that a good spy movie needs. Even the somewhat dour Bourne series has a great sense of humor when it comes to the character one-upping his opponents. Largo Winch isn't a poor movie by any means, but it wasn't a particularly entertaining one, either. Rent it if you want to give it a shot.
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