TV: Lupin (Parts 1 & 2)

One of Netflix’s latest international hits is Lupin, a classy, opulent French mystery about a modern-day “gentleman burglar.” Assane Diop (the charismatic Omar Sy) is a clever, charming rascal who models his criminal career on Maurice Leblanc’s famous French literary detective, Arsène Lupin. While Assane has something of a normal life in Paris—a spirited ex-wife named Claire (Ludivine Sagnier), an adoring son named Raoul (Etan Simon), and an antiquities-dealing best friend, Ben (Antoine Gouy)—he’s mainly a loner man of mystery. He also has a chip on his shoulder: the knowledge that his father was framed and convicted of a high-profile jewel theft, which led to his suicide. Assane knows his father’s tragic fate was engineered by rapacious businessman Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), who employed Assane’s father to set him up as the fall guy in an insurance scam. When the stolen necklace finds its way back into Pellegrini’s possession, Lupin initiates a campaign of justice against the greedy mogul, which starts with an elaborate heist before escalating into a dangerous chess match between the ruthless, ultra-powerful Pellegrini and the confident, ultra-competent underdog Assane.

Lupin is effortlessly watched, an infectious, entertaining show that pits its likable protagonist against despicable villainy in a series of clever, involved gambits. While Assane possesses antiheroic characteristics, Lupin doesn’t exactly possess the gritty feel of contemporary antihero crime shows; its world is more simplistic, a “heist fantasy” relying of style, dazzle, and competence porn to sell a basic good-versus-evil conflict. In my opinion, Lupin occasionally “cheats” structurally, keeping crucial action offscreen and then flashing back to it to reveal how Assane prepared for the scrapes he inevitably gets out of; I prefer the Mission: Impossible technique of showing all the puzzle pieces without explaining them, and then watching them resolve into a complete picture. Even so, Lupin is of a piece with Mission and its heist-show descendants; Leverage, in particular, comes to mind, although Lupin‘s production values leave it in the dust. It’s a similarly enjoyable lark.

Is Assane a little too James Bondish for my liking? Occasionally, yes; more and more, I tend to bounce off exceptional heroes who are always right, always win, and aren’t required to play by the rules everyone else has to follow. Fortunately, Lupin seems aware of this potential pitfall and mitigates Assane’s behavior accordingly. Sy, of course, goes a long way to making this a non-problem; he’s almost impossible to dislike in this role. The supporting cast is capable, with Soufiane Guerrab standing out Youssef Guedira, the introspective, overlooked detective determined to crack the case and capture Assane, even as he develops a growing fondness for him. Overall, I don’t think I would place Lupin in my top tier, but with its attractive cast, fast-paced style, and gorgeous Parisian scenery, it makes for a bracing diversion.


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