Series Review | Omar Sy in ‘Lupin’: To Be a Barbarian or a Knight?

Lupin, released in January, was the first series I saw in 2021 after ending 2020 on a tranquil note with HBO’s 2014 drama series, Olive Kitteridge. Starring Frances McDormand in the titular role, Olive Kitteridge takes place in a small town where family baggage and intertwined secrets affect the lives of the main characters across different generations. On the other side of the new year was Lupin, which is an entirely different series from Olive Kitteridge. I was drawn to it by the heist genre and the lead actor, Omar Sy (The Untouchables), whose charm I have always admired. As a result, the Omar Sy led series naturally fitted into the order of things as I sought for my next watch after spending time with a depressed but witty Frances McDormand. Being totally different from Olive Kitteridge, Netflix’s Lupin is set in the energetic French capital, Paris, and it is fast-paced. Although the characters possess family baggage of their own, the high spirit of the heist genre and the city, keeps them going on their high stake mission.

Lupin was marketed like a grande heist movie, but it isn’t one. This was a disappointment for me because I expected the whole series to focus on one or if not more large-scale heists, as the first trailer teased. In the trailer, the heist which takes place at the Louvre caught my attention and you would be forgiven to think that it lasts a couple of episodes. But when you begin the first episode, this major heist is completed before you even find a cozy watching position, and this makes you wonder—what’s next?

Beyond the heist, we are informed that there are bigger familial back stories and a corruption scandal at play, even reaching a global level. With just five episodes, it feels like one big movie, making it a binge worthy Netflix original. Puppeteering the action and mysterious chaos, is Assane Diop, also known as the gentleman gangster, who is heavily inspired by Arsène Lupin, a popular fictional French character. Drawing his inspiration from Lupin, Diop has come to master the art of disguise, trickery and sleight of hand. He hopes to use these skills to get justice, and each time he is one step towards that goal, it is never what you think it is with Assane Diop, who also fathers a child.

Assane Diop is superbly played by Omar Sy, who shines with his big baby charm. He is a joy to watch in this series, and when you are just starting to get frustrated, he remains the person who picks you up and drags you to another costume-rich mission of his. For a series that goes back and forth in time, the character is also not let down by the actor who plays the younger Assane. It is a worthy mention to say that European productions often get it right with their casting of actors who play the younger versions of the main cast. Another casting success story that comes to mind right now is the German series, Dark. In Lupin, Mamadou Haidara plays a teenage Assane Diop so well that you remain invested in the story during the flashback scenes, which ensures that it remains a singular story, weaving a narrative of “how he came to be”.

While getting to know Diop, the series delves into a bigger conspiracy which goes as far back as 25 years. He is a son of a Senegalese immigrant in France, who grew up reading the Lupin book gifted to him by his father, who died under mysterious circumstances. By reading the book, he equips himself with various heist skills that set him up for a life of vengeance. With tricks such as pickpocketing, costumery and overall deceit, he’s able to sneak in and out of places undetected or untraceable, to say the least. The hunt for a certain jewelry in the first episode leads to a bigger web of corruption and finance scandal reaching the most important man in France, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), a media tycoon, who has caged his wife in a “gold apartment”, as she says. Citizen Kane-inspired, anyone?

Well, Pellegrini is less good-looking than Kane, and his goodwill and positive public profile has won him the hearts of many which makes it difficult to bring him down. Moreover, he owns the papers and TV, as a result, he owns the hearts (eyes) of all. Such individuals have people placed in important public offices, so how can such a person with deep ties be exposed? Lupin presents this back and forth chase. And Omar Sy’s ability to look tough (macho) and helpless at the same time, makes it an intriguing one in the heart of Paris. Viewers enjoy beautiful landscapes, most especially views from the rooftops of Paris and we are never distracted by unnecessary shots of the Eiffel Tower. Instead, focus is placed on other eye-catching scenery, such as the Louvre and adjoining streets of Paris.

For someone who prides himself on his intellect and street sharpness, how does Assane Diop react, knowing his life has been a partial lie as new information constantly comes to light. In the series, he is deservedly the most-rounded character. I like the uncommon way in which his relationship with the mother of his child is depicted. Despite not being together, they still remain good friends, who we can clearly see, are still deeply in love. But due to the deceitful nature of his life, a deeper relationship has been made impossible. No bad blood is depicted. No owed child support drama is dragged. No custody drama for that matter. With their unusual relationship, we see that it’s possible for people to love each other and still remain apart for a greater good known to them.

After the first episode’s disappointment, the newly formed idea of the series grew on me, thanks to the character, Assane Diop. I can not wait to watch the second part, which I hope will wrap things up nicely. Also, being a short watch won’t make it a big disappointment at the end of a short night, if you decide to pick it up. However,  I would’ve loved to see bigger heists as sold in the trailer. But we are served with mini escapades where he showcases his artistry with a certain showmanship, even if this is mostly elevated pickpocketing.

In the books, Lupin never gets caught. And as his lover/baby mama (Ludivine Sagnier) mentions towards the end of the first part, this is only possible because it’s fiction and shows how fake it is. She goes on by advising him; telling him that for such a person like him who has been so lucky in real life, wouldn’t it be smart for him to hang his costume at some point? This question doesn’t move Assane Diop, because the mission is far from finished. Moreover, he lives by the belief that a person doesn’t have to be a barbarian or a knight. They might just find an opening for themselves— where they can be a thorough gentleman— which Omar Sy intelligently showcases.

Rating: 7.8/10

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section or on our social media accounts.

The second part premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 11, 2021.

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