Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Gentleman is a Thief

“Lupin” on Netflix


Starting in 1905 French writer Maurice Leblanc began penning the adventures of Arsène Lupin. Though not particularly well-known outside of France, the stylish superthief is on a literary par with Sherlock Holmes (a fictional nemesis he crossed paths with several times in print) in his native land. Lupin served as the template for generations of fiendishly brilliant “gentleman thieves”—from Roger Moore in “The Saint” to David Niven in The Pink Panther to a whole string of European anti-heroes (Fantômas, Diabolik, Kriminal, Killing, Satanik). The character is perhaps best known today as the inspiration for Lupin the Third, a Japanese manga created by Monkey Punch and spun off into a string of wildly popular anime series and movies. British TV writer George Kay (“Criminal: UK”) and French TV writer François Uzan (“Plus Belle la Vie”) undoubtedly grew up under the shadow of the iconic character and have given him a new life for a new generation in the Netflix-produced mystery thriller “Lupin.”

The series centers, not on Leblanc’s fictional rogue, but on a man named Assane Diop (played with vigorous charisma by Omar Sy from The Intouchables, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World). Assane is the son of a Senegalese immigrant who worked as a chauffeur for a fabulously wealthy Parisian family. When Assane was 13, however, his father was accused of stealing a multimillion-dollar necklace from his employer. Assane’s father committed suicide in prison before he could stand trial, leaving Assane a sad orphan boy. Some 35 years later, Assane is a grown man and (somewhat ironically) a professional thief. Arsène Lupin comes into play in the fact that Assane grew up reading about the character and worshipping his outrageous capers. (Lupin regularly pulled off robberies like looting an entire museum while locked in prison or stealing a millionaire’s art collection by announcing the exact day and time at which the crime would occur.) Having honed his larcenous skills (from pickpocketing to hacking to disguise) over the last 25 years, Assane is now gunning for the family that (he believes) framed his father and had him murdered.

Over the course of the show’s quick and bingeable five-episode first-season arc, our anti-hero tries all he can to get the dirt on the all-powerful Pelligrini family. Daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme from “Les Revenents”) is an old lover, but dad Hubert (Hervé Pierre) is into every dirty enterprise, from insurance fraud to international arms dealing. Making this cold revenge kick even harder is the fact that at least one detective on the Parisian police force is also a fan of Maurice Leblanc and has figured out Assane’s copycat style. But our modern-day Lupin is no lone wolf. He’s got a bunch of skilled friends and acquaintances willing to help him out. And just to humanize the guy a bit, he has a sharp ex-wife (Ludivine Sagnier from The Swimming Pool) and an estranged teenage son he’s trying his best to be a father to. That’s not an easy thing to do, though, when your nights are eaten up burgling the Louvre and all.

Several of the episodes of “Lupin” are directed by Louis Leterrier, who gave us the Transporter films and the extremely Arsène Lupin-inspired caper flick Now You See Me. The series doesn’t have quite the propulsive energy (or the theatrical budget) of Leterrier’s Transporter films. It’s more about build-up and pay-off. How will Assane pull off this latest insanely complicated and extremely dangerous gambit? But the series does have a car chase or two, including a pilot episode corker that ends up (rather memorably) at the aforementioned Louvre. Handsomely mounted, well cast and loaded down with exciting twists and turns, “Lupin” is a zippy-fun reimagining of a classic genre. It’s just the thing to steal away a night or two of your streaming time. But like the show’s patient protagonist, you’re going to have to wait a bit for satisfaction. The second, cliffhanger-ending season has yet to announce an air date.


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