Winch. Largo Winch.
It might not have the same cachet, but this 2008 French film features the same kind of hero, plot, exotic locations, femme fatales, exaggerated action sequences—even music—as the 007 movies. Instead of a Cold War British secret agent we get a modern-day “heir apparent”—a CEO’s adopted son who was secretly raised to take over the company, but who rebelled in a big, big way.
Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley) is off doing his own thing—which includes busting out of a Brazilian prison—when he gets word that his adoptive father, the multi-billionaire Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic), has died and Largo needs to show up at the annual stockholders’ meeting to convince everyone he’s the heir apparent, or else the multi-national corporation could fall victim to a hostile takeover bid by Russian self-made millionaire and suspected mafia boss Michail Korsky (Karel Roden). But there’s something suspicious about Nerio’s death.
Nerio Winch’s number two—Ann Ferguson (Kristin Scott Thomas)—seems determined to fight off the takeover, but from Largo’s point of view things only go from worse to hellish. People want him dead, and in Bond tradition a beautiful woman named Léa (a.k.a. Naomi, played by Melanie Thierry) seems to be the one behind every wrong turn Largo makes. Yet one of the scariest looking guys—the scar-faced Freddy (Gilbert Melki), who worked for Nerio—seems to be on his side.
Unlike the Bond flicks, this one’s a family affair—and not just Nerio. We see how Nerio plucked Largo from an orphanage and asked good friends to take care of him until he could be sent off to Valmont boarding school in Switzerland. So Largo was raised as a brother to Goran (Radivoje Bukvic), their son.
But a lot can happen when 20 billion dollars is at stake, and “The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch” takes just about everything into account. Some of the twists are predictable, but others are not. And the pacing, the action, and the overall look of the film really does make you think of the Bond films in almost every scene. Well, except for flashbacks that show the mentor/reluctant student relationship that Largo had with his father.
This is a film based on action and surprise, and so I won’t say anything more about the plot. But get ready to feast your eyes on settings like Hong Kong, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macau, Malta, and Sicily, with shots of Hong Kong particularly stunning. There are plenty of helicopter and long shots that celebrate the exotic, and quick-cut, sped-up action sequences to make those segments work. Sisley is a likeable hero, and while he doesn’t get the kind of lines that Bond had, his live-life-light philosophy clashes enough with his they’re-not-going-to-get-away-with-this sense of moral justice, just as his resistance to the lonely corporate life of his adoptive father stands in contrast with the obligation that suddenly falls upon him. “What life gave is one thing,” Largo’s father tells him. “What you do of it is another.” For an action film, there’s considerable character depth.
One last observation: even before I learned that “Largo Winch” was based on a graphic novel by Van Hamme and Francq, I could tell by the tone and the careful way in which the filmmakers walk a line between action-reality and comic-book stunts more associated with superheroes . . . or, of course, everyone’s favorite womanizing secret agent, Mr. Bond. Director Jerome Salle gets the pacing and tone right in this one. Much better, in fact, than he accomplishes with “The Tourist” two years later. Simply put, “Largo Winch” is a superior film . . . despite some cheesiness and clunky moments in the third act.
It’s a little disappointing that Music Box Films didn’t release this one in Blu-ray. The gorgeous location footage and generally fine cinematography make you wish it were in 1080p. But even for a DVD there’s a decent level of detail, and colors and skin-tones seem true and vibrant—if not just a little steely and bluish-looking in a number of scenes, which appears deliberate to cast a corporate glow over the action. It’s presented in 2.35:1 widescreen.
The audio is a solid English and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English. The subwoofer never gets rumbling much, but for a DVD soundtrack it’s pretty lively.
Included is a digital comic of Largo Winch #1: The Heir, along with a very brief “making of” feature and the theatrical trailer. Sweet, but short.
If you like the Bond movies, you owe it to yourself to check out “Largo Winch.” And if "Largo Winch" appeals, next up there's "Largo Winch 2: The Burma Conspiracy."