An occasionally rousing globetrotting actioner whose excitements are undercut by the shaky-cam/fast-cut approach to shooting fight scenes and the equally jittery convolutions of its plotting, The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch offers up a decidedly Francophone take on the American blockbuster formula. Based on the popular Belgian-French series of graphic novels, Jérôme Salle’s film aims above all to deliver the goods: The movie continually hops between country, language, and time period with nervous abandon, is replete with corporate intrigue, hand-to-hand fisticuffs, and sex, and has enough twists to ensure that audiences don’t get too complacent. But in all the film’s shifting modes, there’s little room for the viewer to get his or her footing, particularly when the assumed point of identification is the relative nonentity of a hero.
That figure is the eponymous Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley), the perpetually stubbly heir to one of the world’s largest fortunes. After the suspicious drowning death of his father, the principle shareholder of the hugely successful multinational Group W., Largo surprises everyone by being plucked from obscurity and named as the inheritor to his father’s stake in the company. Since no one had previously known of Largo’s existence (he was raised incognito in the former Yugoslavia), the appearance of this presumptive heir throws a wrench in the plans of those with designs on company control, the scheming head of the board of directors, Ann Ferguson (Kristin Scott Thomas), and Russian arms trader Mikhail Korsky (Karel Roden), who’s launching a hostile takeover of the group.
But Largo proves a most unlikely hero. Like his American counterparts, he’s got the brash and bluster down, but his brand of insouciance seems particularly Gallic. Actually, as played by the German Sisley, who’s called on to deliver dialogue in three languages, he’s a decidedly international hero, but he seems to be equally a cipher no matter what tongue he’s conversing in. Like most of the film’s performances, Sisley’s comes off as flat and impenetrable, the result both of a certain stoical conception of character and the dissipation of focus that arises from the movie’s perceived need to encompass so much.
Largo comes to life in certain action scenes (a jailbreak from a Brazilian prison is something of a highlight, though again, it’s cut to ribbons in the editing room), but mostly he’s one more non-personality awash in the film’s world of intrigue. Too bad none of it is particularly intriguing. The movie presents the milieu of corporate maneuvering at its most simplistic and cynical, no matter how much the narrative convulsions attempt to complicate the picture, and the result is a product that rarely delivers on either the levels of action, plotting, or character. In short, The Heir Apparent is as emotionally unengaged as its impassive hero.