An Unlikely Hero

Lupin Invigorates the Heist Genre



Omar Sy as Assane Diop in Lupin

Elijah Weiss, Staff Writer

Too often, I find myself scrolling through streaming catalogues or flipping channels, looking for a quality show that will keep me interested for thirty-plus minutes. Nowadays, it feels like anything can be made into highly consumable television; there’s an endless buffet of shows in any genre on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax, Disney Plus–need I go on? The glut of content means there’s a lot of mediocrity to parse through. So many series just look the same. It is hard to find a show that can be separated from the pack, but Netflix has finally managed to do it with Lupin, an addictive French mystery-thriller series with a Sherlock-esque vibe. 

Created by George Kay (Killing Eve) and François Uzan, the show stars French star Omar Sy in the role of Assane Diop, who, from an outsider’s perspective, appears to be an average guy (albeit in a muscular 6 foot 3 frame). We learn quickly that while he may seem charming and charismatic, Assane is actually a cunning thief and a master of disguise aiming to avenge his father’s jailing and eventual death. An avid reader, he takes inspiration from books written by French novelist Maurice LeBlanc and their main character, Arsène Lupin, gentleman burglar. He takes everything he reads about the character to heart, at one point claiming, “Arsène Lupin isn’t just a book. He’s my heritage. My method. My plan. I am Lupin.” Lupin nearly perfects the heist genre and refines the art of modern-day storytelling.

Shows worth watching feature complicated characters, from Tony Soprano of The Sopranos to Raymond Reddington of The Blacklist, and Assane fits this bill. He is no superhero, nor does he have any special powers. But he walks around with such confidence that, to the naked eye, one might assume he has something supernatural about him. In truth, his confidence is his secret power. In one episode, he has the audacity to break into a prison with no doubt in his mind that he can sneak back out. He changes roles and disguises himself in unfathomable ways, slipping in and out of sticky situations with ease. One minute he is a janitor, the next he is a wealthy businessman bidding millions in an auction. As he says, “This is all a game. A game with rules and I’m the one that makes them.” 

The clever, crafty writing of the show deserves a large amount of the credit. The dialogue is fleet-footed, the characters vividly realized. Right from the start, we get a clear sense of Assane’s character, who he is and how he goes about his business. As each episode progresses, deeper cracks beneath the surface are unveiled, and we begin to understand Assane’s true motivations.  

The writing is smart, and that’s in part due to the clever pacing. So many television shows suffer from sloppy exposition, choppy scenes and inconsistent tone, jumping all over the place as time marches on. With Lupin, the writers and directors expertly balance the serious elements of the plot with a light tone. And while the mystery unfolds, the writing stays patient. Even the flashbacks (which, as a narrative tool, can often veer into cheeze or hyperdrama if haphazardly shoehorned into a story), feel woven perfectly into the narrative. While the mood of the story may change scene to scene, nothing feels out of place. These backstory-filled timehops reveal just the right amount of information before jumping back to the present day. Though the time shifts, the story stays fluid.

In Lupin, the acting cannot be forgotten. Sy portrays his character with ease, varying his personality and wielding his emotion in fascinating ways. The raw emotion of Assane’s facial expressions, from sincerity to angst to disgust, make him a lovable protagonist, even if he is breaking the law. The English dubbing is decent, but stick to the French version; Sy’s delivery and intonation make squinting to read the subtitles worth it.

At some points, Lupin’s plot can feel a little unrealistic. The police frantically search for Assane, but cannot seem to identify him. Remember, he is a 6-foot-3 Senegalese immigrant living in France. And certain feats Assane pulls off seem almost impossible. Yet the writers seem cheekily aware of this contradiction. They are almost daring you to stop watching, and they’re confident you won’t; as unrealistic as some plot turns may be, the show is simply too compelling to stop watching.