To most Americans, a Largo Winch sounds like something you might find in a hardware store, but in Europe, Largo Winch is the hero of a series of popular graphic novels that have been adapted into pulp paperbacks, video games, and a successful television series. Now he's come to the big screen with The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, a big-budget action epic from France that finds its improbable hero hopping from one nation to another as he battles villains intent on corrupting the global economy, though it isn't long before the film makes it clear that Winch is not exactly a hero of the 99 percent.
The movie opens with the death of Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic), a baron of international finance who rose from a poor childhood in Bosnia to control one of the world's largest finance firms and amass a personal fortune of $20 billion. While the death is reported as an accident, in truth the tycoon was murdered, and the world is eager to see who will take over his empire. Nerio is believed to have had no children, which leaves the future of his company, the W Group, up in the air. However, Winch's second-in-command Ann Ferguson (Kristin Scott Thomas) informs the board of directors that Nerio secretly adopted a son, and the young man, Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley), already has possession of his father's controlling shares of the company. With one of the world's largest fortunes at stake and some on the W Group board doubting his story and qualifications, it comes as no surprise that Largo finds himself dealing with a number of interlopers; he must fend off Russian arms dealer-turned-financier Mikhail Korsky (Karel Roden) and his lover (Melanie Thierry), who uses her beauty to get what she wants, as well as a few other enemies who pose as Largo's most-trusted associates. However, Largo was raised by a working-class family in Croatia while being tutored in finance by his adoptive father, so he has a keen eye for human nature and is nobody's fool. His superhero-level fighting skills and movie-star good looks don't hurt, either.
The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch plays like a cross between a European spy picture of the 1960s and '70s and a modern-day action opus, though with a bit less obvious CGI and shaky-cam acrobatics than its American contemporaries. Largo possesses the effortless cool of James Bond, while his ability to kick butt against a wide variety of foes while keeping track of the mathematics behind his fortune suggests a swarthier Jason Bourne. Tomer Sisley isn't especially expressive as Winch -- most of the time he seems to be working out some new look that would do Derek Zoolander proud -- but he can take or deliver a punch with panache and look good doing it, and in the midst of the frequently over-the-top action sequences and no-holds-barred fighting, his sheer unflappability helps keeps the picture rooted. Most of the cast plays it similarly cool, especially Kristin Scott Thomas as a big-league financial wiz (though whoever gave her that hairstyle should have been fired) and Miki Manojlovic as Largo's tough, clever dad. Melanie Thierry, meanwhile, has the thankless task of being the only person in the movie who is supposed to look as good with her shirt off as Sisley, but she handles this chore with flying colors and makes a powerful impression in a small role. Director Jerome Salle keeps the story moving forward at a steady but comfortable pace, and though it takes more detours than are necessary (especially as the movie heads into the last act and screenwriters Salle and Julien Rappeneau make it hard to tell who is double-crossing whom), the movie is a well-made popcorn flick with more smarts than most in its genre and a decent number of thrills.
Heir Apparent was a major hit in Europe in 2008, and as this movie belatedly premieres in the United States, a sequel has already opened overseas. However, Largo is a curious action hero in that he's not fighting for the benefit of anyone but himself and his shareholders -- while most protagonists in action pictures take on supervillains in order to save the world, he does battle to hold on to $20 billion; after a while it's difficult to separate Largo from the villains, who want the money for no appreciably different reason. At least Tony Stark had some interest in America's defense as an excuse.