Films and series about the “one big score” usually center around the planning of the big caper that will make everyone rich. But what if the caper is just a jumping-off point for a larger story about a man who wants the truth about the death of his father? That’s the idea behind the new French drama Lupin.
LUPIN: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: The Louvre at night. Cleaning crews come in through a subterranean entrance and grab their supplies.
The Gist: Assane Diop (Omar Sy) is one of those janitors; he marvels at the works of art as he mops and dusts. One in particular has caught his eye; a necklace that was once a gift from King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.
Assane isn’t just interested in the necklace as a big score, though; we flash back to 1995, when Assane was a teenager. His father Babakar (Fargass Assandé) was starting work as a driver for the Pellegrini family. Madame Anne Pellegrini (Nicole Garcia) took a liking to Babakar and Assane; when Babakar was admiring the books in the Pelegrini’s library, Anne told him to take one to give to Assane. Babakar chooses Arsène Lupin: Gentlemen Burglar. Monsieur Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), on the other hand, treated Babakar poorly; when the Marie Antoinette necklace, which the family owned after it passing through numerous hands and being stolen numerous times, goes missing, he accuses Babakar of stealing it.
The day the necklace goes up for auction, Assane is actually in the audience while the three thugs do the dirty work, as things don’t go exactly as planned; for instance the chloroform spray he had the guys smuggle in doesn’t instantly knock out the guards they have to get past. In the audience, Assane sees the Pellegrinis’ daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), who gave him his first kiss all those years ago when she was an older teenager curious to know what it was like to kiss a Black guy.
As part of his plan, he ratchets up the bidding and wins the necklace for €60 million, with of course no intention of paying. The three thugs double-cross Assane and escape with the necklace… only to get caught as Rudy loses control of the Ferrari he stole. That’s when we learn more about Assane than we knew in the first 40 minutes of the first episode.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There’s a lot about Lupin that reminds us of two other Netflix shows about thieves: Money Heist and The Great Heist, but there seems to be more of a personal factor involved here than in those other two shows.
Our Take: Lupin, created by George Kay and François Uzan, is hard to describe without giving away the entire twist of the first episode, so let’s just give you a SPOILER ALERT right now. Ready? Ready.
What we appreciate about Lupin is that it’s not just a show about an expert thief who wants the big score or the one that will send him into retirement. Assane does have a motivation to get out of the business of being a thief, but stealing the Marie Antoinette necklace is more than just making a big score; it’s personal. He knows that Monsieur Pellegrini had no evidence that his father stole the necklace 25 years ago. And Babakar was so despondent over it, that he hung himself in his prison cell. So Assane has some unfinished business with the Pellegrinis, including Juliette, for whom he still holds a candle.
The less said about how the caper was structured and written the better, but for a good reason: It has so many twists and turns along the way, that we imagine the writers had one of those pin-and-string boards up in the writers’ room to make sure they covered all their bases. But when we realize that Assane isn’t a guy struggling to make ends meet and figures out that he can steal the necklace, our view of the entire first episode changes. The twist isn’t exactly The Sixth Sense-level shocking, but it was enough of a surprise to make us view the scenes before it differently upon a second viewing.
Omar Sy is great as Assane, able to hide as a humble custodian and play a bold business magnate with equal élan. Every other character around Assane seems to be built as caricatures that will do his bidding, but it seems like Claire was an intellectual match for him at one time, as was Juliette. So we should be able to see more of both relationships as the series goes on. But the first episode was exciting enough, with more than enough twists, to keep us interested.
Sex and Skin: Besides the kiss between young Assane and young Juliette, there’s nothing.
Parting Shot: As we see Lupin hanging out with Raoul, we hear him say in voice over: “He’s my heritage, my method. I am Lupin.”
Sleeper Star: We liked Ludivine Sangier as Claire. We think she knows more about Assane’s life than we saw at first, and we wonder how involved she’ll be in his pursuit of the Pellegrinis.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Lupin’s twists and turns, and a fine performance from Omar Sy (who is also the show’s artistic director, helping to establish the series’ lavish look) makes the imminently watchable.
Joel Keller () writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
Stream Lupin On Netflix