Why Netflix’s Lupin should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 17, Jan 2021
“You didn’t look at me. You saw me, but you didn’t really look.” That’s the sound of Netflix’s Lupin swaggering into view. If the name “Lupin” rings a bell, that’s because it comes from Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief written by Maurice Leblanc back in 1905. Netflix’s series gives him a crisp update, and its first step is to take us away from the period pages of French literature into something thrillingly modern.
Our hero isn’t called Lupin at ll, but Assane Diop (Omar Sy), a thief who takes his inspiration from Arsène, a figure he first discovered as a child. That was thanks to his dad, Babakar, a chauffeur to the wealthy Pellegrini family, who let him take a book from their library – but after Babakar was wrongly convicted of a theft, that book became a totem for the young Senegalese refugee, who wields Lupin’s chameleonic, charismatic skills as a con man to right wrongs, get revenge and steal back some sort of justice.
It’s a wonderful hook for a show that gives his antics just enough heft to draw you in. Introduced to us tellingly as a janitor, he strolls through a society that overlooks and undervalues him, and turns those dismissive presumptions to his advantage. That dissection of classism and racism is delivered with the lightest of touches. On the one hand, that means the show doesn’t go much further in its exploration of race – one flashback involving a swimming pool briefly touches upon stereotypes – but on the other hand, it means that the show can throw its full weight behind simply watching Assane in action.
And boy, is he fun to watch. Omar Sy, who broke out on the international stage with his winning turn in 2011’s Intouchables, doesn’t just shine in the spotlight, he lights up the whole show. He’s a gigantic screen presence, literally when unfolded at his full height, but Sy’s physicality adjusts to fit whatever role he’s playing, whether it’s a confident buyer at an exclusive auction, a blue-collar cleaner or a bicycle courier. It’s thanks to Sy’s charm that you can believe he can pass in all of these parts and more, twinkling his way past people to achieve his goals.
They all start with the necklace owned by the Pellegrinis, which is being sold in a high-profile event at the Louvre. Assembling a crew within minutes to snatch it, Assane wastes no time in demonstrating his resourcefulness, just as the show wastes no time in declaring its intent. The glossy opening chapter is a beautifully slick affair, climaxing in the bravura use of a car that has to be seen to be believed. But even better is the way the show continues to follow the aftermath of the crime for its remaining five episodes – that serialised approach means the programme can flesh out Assane’s character, and his relationship with his father (as well as his own bond with his son), making for something much more engaging than a case-of-the-week caper.
That, however, doesn’t stop the show from mixing things up, and it rapidly segues from art heist to prison break without skipping a beat, morphing from genre to genre with the flexibility and agility of its leading man. It does all this while also playing with its source material in an enjoyably meta way – we watch plot points come straight from the page via Assane’s own marked-up copy, while a policeman (Soufiane Guerrab) gradually pieces together the similarities between what’s happening in Paris and what was written just over a century ago. If you’re looking for procedural accuracy in your cop drama, this isn’t the place to come, but if you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced thriller that plays like France’s answer to Hustle, get ready for something to steal its way to the top of your watchlist. Once you start looking, you won’t be able to take your eyes off it.
Lupin is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.