“Lupin”: A Gentleman Thief Avenges His Father

Omar Sy is Assane Diop in Lupin (photo courtesy of Netflix)

Rated the third most watched series on Netflix in 2021, Lupin is a worthy thriller that will entice both simple and sophisticated tastes of all ages. Filmed in Paris in 10 episodes (with more to come) and spoken in French with English subtitles, Lupin hums with suspense, surprise, and humor, and an interesting take on morality. All driven by one man’s burning quest for justice and truth.

Lupin features the gentle and fearless Assane Diop (Omar Sy), whose life mission is to avenge the betrayal and death of his father, perpetrated by a corrupt employer named Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre). Pellegrini is the quintessential, mustache-twirling villain straight out of Central Casting, whose powerful connections help him defeat his enemies at any cost.

Assane has his own allies and an unexpected role model whose strategies turn Assane into a kind of superhero. Arsène Lupin is Assane’s north star, an uber mentor straight out of fiction. This iconic genius belongs to a bestselling book series from the early 1900s by Maurice Leblanc, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The short story “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin” features an eccentric criminal named Lupin in a story with a great twist. And its huge success led the way to 17 novels and 39 novellas, all with a vast following of readers. Early on, Leblanc saw fit to morph this star character from a common criminal into a more palatable hero: a gentleman burglar and master of disguise.

Omar Sy in Lupin (photo courtesy of Netflix)

Note to readers: The “gentleman burglar” was a standard character in fiction. A man of inherited wealth and refined behavior, the gentleman burglar was respectful, charming, sophisticated, and never prone to violence, even during the act of stealing. A thief with a moral compass? Lupin was the rare thief who would halt violent criminals by getting them arrested. He was also known for giving his stolen goods to their rightful owners. Or bestowing them, Robin Hood style, on those in need. If you’re interested, these books are now back in demand and being reprinted.

Lupin’s strategies and adventures were the blueprint for Assane Diop. They shaped his persona and helped him achieve the impossible. Assane becomes his own version of a gentleman thief and a clever sleuth. His cool head is fueled by a little James Bond adrenaline and the cerebral power of Sherlock Holmes.

The Lupin Netflix series draws on all of this. And Omar Sy (The Intouchables) embodies the starring role as Assane Diop, the man obsessed with justice. He’s Black with a six-foot-three frame that towers over the rest of the cast, which keeps him pretty darn visible whether he’s sporting a hoodie or a tux. But he does have some effective disguises, like the food delivery guy on a bicycle. Don’t blink.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Like his superhero Arsène Lupin, Diop has a gift for outwitting his adversaries. And when he steals something—okay, when he commits a crime—he pilfers for a purpose. (Good slogan?) And then he returns the items, all without getting caught, like it never happened. What we might call a temporary theft by a benign criminal.

Lupin is propelled by its backstory. Frequent flashbacks reveal Assane’s childhood and fill in the details. He married his high school sweetheart, Claire (Ludivine Sagnier), they had a son. But they divorced. Apparently, Assane’s retribution routine made him a scarce and unreliable dad. Life gets complicated when you’re seeking revenge, even for a mastermind.

What we love about Assane Diop is his tender heart, his fierce determination, and his expressive face that conveys his joy, intense concentration, or the rejection he felt as a boy when someone treated him poorly because he’s Black. Mostly we love his brilliance for planning maneuvers to achieve the impossible. Like the way he tracks down his father’s former cellmate when he Houdinis his way into and out of prison.

Creator George Kay, screenwriter François Uzan, and a roster of well-cast characters give this series the substance that keeps us rooting for Assane and all those who support him. Lupin will keep you engaged, amazed, and thoroughly entertained. And eager for Season 3.  A