REVIEW: ‘Lupin’ is a Witty and Thrilling Heist Series

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Lupin

Maurice Leblanc was a French novelist and writer of short stories, famously known as the creator of the fictional gentleman thief, master of disguise, and detective Arsène Lupin. His renowned literary work has inspired other media forms over the years from other literary works, films, and even anime. Now Leblanc’s gentleman thief has inspired a brand new original series on Netflix.

Lupin is a French action-adventure crime drama series created by George Kay and François Uzan. Starring Omar Sy (The Intouchables, X-Men: Days of Future Past) as Assane Diop, a man who is inspired by Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin. Lupin tells the story of Assane, a con man who only takes from the wealthy and who gained their fortunes through illegal or crooked methods.

Twenty-five years before becoming a con man, Assane’s father, Babakar, died after being wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. Following his father’s death, he has mysteriously gifted a book about Arsène Lupin, the renowned gentleman thief. Assane becomes inspired by Lupin and sees the book as a tool to gain the power to grant him wealth and resources. Now, using the name Arsène Lupin as an alias, Assane sets out to clear his father’s name and get revenge on the people who framed his father and drove him to commit suicide. Lupin consists of 10 episodes, released in 2 parts. Part 1, which consists of the first five episodes, premiered on Netflix on January 8, 2021.

I genuinely enjoyed Lupin and feel like it has the makings of a great heist story. I especially love that this series, much like Monkey Punch’s Lupin III anime series is an original series inspired by Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman thief series,  Arsène LupinMuch like LeBlanc’s Lupin,  Assane is a force for good who works on the opposing side of the law to bring justice in his own way. He isn’t just some common run of the mill thief who robs anyone for a quick buck. No, he is much more than that. He is suave, clever, and chooses to target the wicked elite and wealthy society who got their riches through illegal and harmful means. 

The story overall is pretty entertaining and keeps my attention. The heists are fairly grounded and not too far out of the realm of possibility. The biggest and most elaborate heist takes place at the beginning of the series. However, the main plot of the series focuses on Assane using all of his gentleman thief and master of disguise skills to track down and expose the people that framed his father. I found the complications that arise where Assane is about to be exposed and captured to be very interesting. When you think his luck has run out, he somehow manages to stay one step ahead to evade capture, for the most part.

I highly recommend watching this series in the original language. The English dubbed version does not do justice to the script, characters, or story, in my opinion. The English voice-over lacked chemistry and passion and didn’t pair well with the characters on the screen. Especially in various scenes between Assane and his estranged wife, Claire. However, when watching Lupin in French, the chemistry and passion click so much better. Additionally, if you want to see Omar Sy’s acting skills shine, then you really should watch his performance done in French.

Omar Sy’s performance is amazing, and he truly portrays the gentleman thief character in every sense of the word. He does an excellent job as Assane Diop and when his character is in on his disguises. It is the way he adapts his mannerisms, attitude, speech, and even posture to each disguise that really sells that he is masterfully skilled at taking on different personas and keeping his true identity a mystery. As for the Lupin acting overall, I can’t say I felt any other performances stood out to me as much. I felt like Omar Sy’s character would benefit from having an opposing character capable of matching his wits and giving him a real challenge.

It was important that Lupin takes the time to portray the racism and prejudice that Assane and his father face as Senagalesse immigrants living in France. For example, when Assane and Babakar meet Mrs. Pellegrini, the wife of Babakar’s employer, she is having car trouble, and he tries to help her. Mrs. Pellegrini looks at Babakar and his son. Upon seeing that they were Black, she quickly and frantically locks her door and tells them she doesn’t want their help. It’s not until Babakar explains that he is her husband’s new chauffeur that she recognizes him and accepts his help.

Lupin

There are a few other moments in the series where Assane experiences racism and prejudice while navigating predominantly white spaces. It felt necessary to include moments like these because it is a real experience that many Black and/or African immigrants have experienced regardless of wealth or status. I liked how Assane, being aware of the prejudice he receives as a Black man, uses it to his advantage when he is in various disguises. For example, Assane manages to seamlessly enter a prison and swap places with a prisoner who looks nothing like him because the guards don’t bother to confirm his identity. They take him away because he is another Black man in handcuffs and assume he is the prisoner. While I think it was important to include these moments of racism in the show.  That doesn’t mean all the portrayals of racism are necessary.

One of my biggest critiques of Part 1 of Lupin involves one scene that didn’t feel necessary or could have been executed better. During a flashback scene, young Assane meets Juliette, the daughter of Mr. Pellegini, the man Assane’s father works for, while using the pool. Juliette teasingly asks Assane, “Is it true what they say about Black people?” as a means to flirt with him.  I did not find it funny or cute that a rich white girl uses a racist stereotype of Black people as a way of flirting. The dialogue of the scene was problematic and unnecessary. Establishing that Assane and Juliette had a romantic attraction towards one another could have been executed much differently and not in such a problematic way. Instead of using a racist stereotype to flirt, they could have just talked like normal teenagers.

Regarding the romance as a whole in the series, I did not care too much for it. The two romantic relationships in Lupin focus on Assane’s previous relationships with Juliette and his estranged wife, Claire. He shares a son but is currently living separately from them. I didn’t care much for Assane’s relationship with Juliette because of how it was established in the beginning. Also, it felt like their relationship is more rooted in the idea of having a forbidden love affair. As the series continues, it is clear that they continue their romantic relationship as adults in secret even while Assane is in with Claire.

Whereas Assane and Claire’s relationship was at least established out of friendship initially, and then it grew into something more as they grew up together. However, I felt that their relationship lacked chemistry and depth. We don’t really spend much time with them when they are in a relationship, and we don’t see where and when things fell apart exactly. For the most part, we know that they fell in love young and eventually separated after Claire became resentful towards Assane for his secretive nature and is aware of some of his criminal activity.  I assumed the romance was lacking in the present in Lupin because it isn’t a priority for Assane. For most of Part 1, Assane’s focus is on getting revenge and proving his father’s innocence.

Overall, Lupin is a thrilling and witty series with a refreshingly original story. If you enjoy action, adventure, mystery, and heist genres then I highly recommend giving this series a watch.  The plot is entertaining and attention-grabbing as the protagonist tries to bring justice to his father’s name while also exposing the corrupted people responsible for his death. Omar Sy gives an awesome performance and truly embodies the gentleman thief role. Some scenes appropriately portray racism and prejudice, while others might have been better off excluded. This is a must-watch in French because the English voice-over doesn’t do justice to the onscreen actors’ chemistry and passion. I can’t wait to see where the story is picked up in Part 2 and see how our gentleman thief triumphs in the end.

Lupin is streaming now on Netflix


Lupin Season 1 Part 1
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    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Overall, Lupin is a thrilling and witty series with a refreshingly original story. If you enjoy action, adventure, mystery, and heist genres then I highly recommend giving this series a watch.  The plot is entertaining and attention-grabbing as the protagonist tries to bring justice to his father’s name while also exposing the corrupted people responsible for his death. Omar Sy gives an awesome performance and truly embodies the gentleman thief role. Some scenes appropriately portray racism and prejudice, while others might have been better off excluded. This is a must-watch in French because the English voice-over doesn’t do justice to the onscreen actors’ chemistry and passion. I can’t wait to see where the story is picked up in Part 2 and see how our gentleman thief triumphs in the end.