He's not the ultimate cliche, but he's not totally novel either. That tawny-skinned, unwaveringly confident, effortlessly good-looking guy of unclear ethnicity, we mean. He tumbles around the planet appearing penniless, but his mysterious refusal to talk about his past gives the distinct impression that he's no simple, carefree cosmopolitan vagabond.
This is Largo Winch, the central character in director Jerome Salle's The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, coming December 9 to the Coral Gables Art Cinema, played by German-born actor Tomer Sisley. It's an impressive, memorable part brought to life flawlessly by Sisley. If only the rest of the film were as gorgeously in sync as this casting, it could have been one to write home about (in all three languages that the film is shot in -- French, Croatian, and English).
Before we get to a little run-down of the plot, there was one
moment during our screening of this film that neatly sums up our
reservations about it. During one scene, in which about ten board
members of a multi-billion dollar company are debating about what their
next move should be, we had this flashbulb thought: "Jeez, this acting
is so contrived, the only way it could be considered even marginally
acceptable is if it were based on a comic book." Then it dawned on us
that that scene was halfway through the movie, and all those preceding
it had been portrayed with convincing, empathy-winning acting. So even
if the movie was based on comic books, which it turns out it was, the
quality of the acting was totally inconsistent, which in our opinion, is
never a strong point for a film.
Now that plot run-down we promised: Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic) is a billionaire tycoon, but also a loner isolated by his fortune and mistrust of others. In his middle age, he decides to seek an heir to his empire in an orphanage in Croatia. He scoops up two infant boys and delivers them to some close friends, along with the tiny little request that they raise the children.
Nerio selects Largo as his heir and grooms the boy to accept his destiny, sending him to elite prep schools and taking him on retreats where he imparts wisdom about the lonely but important lives of the immensely powerful.
Years later, where our movie begins, Nerio is murdered and our protagonist, who has been happily drifting from continent to continent picking up random tattoos and pouty-lipped women, is suddenly in line to accept his destiny. But with so much money and power on the table, there are a few conniving, cold-hearted individuals who will do anything to prevent the transfer of power to the handsome, understatedly suave young heir.
Again, Sisley has a striking presence in each of his scenes, and he's not by any means the only talent. As his adoptive father, Manojlovic conveys with understated charisma the regal, stoic pride of the lonely comic book billionaire. Though the roles are small, the actors who play the married couple who readily accepts Nerio's request to raise the orphan boys do so with heart-wrenching sincerity. The ambiguous villain, pock-marked, crooked-toothed ex gun-runner Mikhail Korsky (Karel Roden) is a deliciously complex character, mingling ragamuffin ambition, unwitting vulnerability, and the frustration of the misunderstood. We only wish we'd seen more of him. Same goes for the sultry, conniving seductress Lea (or Naomi, depending on whom she's working for) played by Melanie Thierry. We're left wondering what turned her heart to stone and whether there's anything human left within.
One character, though, was portrayed with such a clumsy heavy hand, we're completely baffled as to how the otherwise-capable casting director could have let it slip through the cracks. Wiliam Kwan, a large Asian actor who played company board member Benedict Wong, recited his lines with the conviction of two scraps of cardboard flapping in the wind. The character's presence wasn't huge, but it was so jarringly terrible when it surfaced that in retrospect it seems disproportionately so.
On the plus side, the pictures were pretty. Aged, decrepit Eastern European architecture, Brazilian villages, seaside cliffs, and angular geometric cityscapes are all in the mix, making for a visually stimulating show. Add to that some explosive, but not over-the-top action scenes, some steamy copulation in a sweaty Brazilian boudoir, and some sexy martial artistry from Sisley (though it's never explained where his character picked up his ninja skills), and you've got a film that's pretty entertaining, if perhaps too long. (It clocks in at nearly two hours.)
Heir Apparent: Largo Winch premieres at The Coral Gables Art Cinema December 9 and runs seven days a week. Tickets cost $11. Go to gablescinema.com or call 786-385-9689.