Image: Wild Bunch Distribution
Released in 2008, Jérôme Salle’s Largo Winch was a big screen adaptation of the popular Belgian comic book series, whose boardroom shenanigans and world-spanning action leave it somewhere between James Bond and The Apprentice. Buoyed by inventive direction, budget greater than French films are usually allowed and a delightfully eclectic international cast, the film was a roaring success in France and several other countries.
Now we have the follow-up, reuniting leading man Tomer Sisley with director Salle, and it is clear that efforts have been made to capitalise on this international popularity, and particularly to make the film more palatable for an English speaking audience. Primary amongst these is the casting of Sharon Stone as the film’s primary antagonist (sort of), international human rights lawyer Diane Francken. About half of the film’s dialogue is now in English, which the cast manage rather better than might have been expected.
The film sees Largo, unwilling inheritor of a business worth billions of dollars, deciding to sell up in order to create a humanitarian fund. Warned that this will make him many powerful enemies, Largo quickly comes into the sights of Francken, who believes him responsible for a massacre in a Burmese village where he once lived. This is Largo meets Rambo, pitting our hero against villainous generals as well as his usual nemeses: corrupt businessmen. The excellent direction of the first instalment, sometimes frenetic, without being headache-inducing, other times relaxed, without being soporific, works just as well a second time, as does Sisley in the lead role, a charming figure with just a dash of uncertainty and even danger about him. It felt to me, however, that in attempting to make the film acceptable to a more mainstream, Hollywoodian audience, sacrifices had been made. While the increased action quotient is no bad thing, it comes at the expense of a loss of almost all of the boardroom backstabbing which made the first film feel so unique. Likewise the well rounded characterisation across the board from the first film is not held up, and a few of the lesser players here are instantly forgettable.
I still found a lot to love, however, and Largo Winch II undeniably succeeds in many respects. The comic relief character, Largo’s personal manservant Gauthier, is given more to do this time around, and this promotion works well in terms of the film’s internal logic and plot in a way that, say, ‘let’s-send-Sam’s-parents-to-Paris’ in Transformers 2 didn’t. I will not spoil the finale, but suffice to say it is rather more low-key than these things usually are, which makes a refreshing change. That said, the filmmakers more than make up for lack of spectacle in the final minutes with the preceding action sequence, one of those tremendously silly but vital scenes which remind us that none of this is to be taken too seriously. A few commendably violent fight scenes and a very likeable supporting turn from Olivier Barthelemy as Largo’s new best friend top off an enjoyably unpretentious romp. Good to see Largo’s motherly Monneypenny of a secretary, Miss Pennywinkle, back for another cameo too. The film contains the final performance of veteran actor Laurent Terzhieff, and his last scene here is certainly a fitting end to a long and varied career.
And what of Sharon Stone? No longer the sexy young starlet of yesteryear, she actually succeeds in bringing charm to an underwritten role. One might question whether a human rights lawyer would wear such outfits in the heart of the UN, or engage in such frivolous promiscuity, but she has a nice chemistry with Sisley, and seems to be having a great time.
A word for the Anglophone audience…Just as the first film saw its DVD release in England under the title of Largo Winch: Deadly Revenge (yes, really), so this one is apparently headed for cinemas under the equally underwhelming title of The Burma Conspiracy. I do not predict big business, but would urge action film fans to seek out these films for something a little different.
A little too Americanised for its own good, Largo Winch’s sophomore outing is a flashier affair, but one which retains enough heart to make it well worth a watch.