TIFF 2022: The Umbrella Men

Directed by: John Barker
Distributed by: Known Associates Entertainment

Written by Alexander Reams


The heist genre is one of the most versatile genres, from the class drama in “Widows” to the quasi-musical “Baby Driver,” it’s a very versatile genre, there are no caveats to a heist movie, all that’s needed is the will and the bravado to pull one over on the audience, see it’s not just a heist in the film, the filmmaker has to fool the audience as well. Not just to suspend belief, but to not let the audience figure out how the heist will play out, while still sprinkling bread crumbs throughout that encourage rewatches (Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” Trilogy and his 2017 masterpiece “Logan Lucky” are prime examples). John Barker’s debut feature “The Umbrella Men” confidently bursts open with boisterous music even in a time of mourning, opening on a funeral, which is cut short by the arrival of an unknown man, soon revealed to be our villain, Tariq (Abduraghman Adams), who cuts off the priest with his obnoxious horn, leading to the introduction of our protagonist, Jerome (Jaques De Silva), who left home and set up in Johannesburg, but has returned to Cape Town to bury his father, and is soon taking over his father’s club, Goema. 

Barker may have lead actors, but he is the clear star, the whip-fast style he employs sets the film’s pace, and doesn’t interfere with the storytelling, it’s not rushed because everything is rushed, even more so when Jerome finds out the bank is attempting to foreclose on his father’s club. This puts even more pressure on our already stressed lead, and Barker helps us feel every ounce of tension, every drop of sweat, from the already heated environment of Cape Town to the heat of the moments during the heist. Barker focused just as much on performances as he did behind the camera, getting great performances from the entire ensemble, but De Silva and Adams shine as two forces that will eventually collide, and the outcome won’t be good for anyone. Barker, despite this being his debut, has the confidence of someone who has been behind the camera for a long time, and that pushes “The Umbrella Men” to greater heights, and is a great addition to the heist genre.

“The Umbrella Men” Trailer

“The Umbrella Men” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

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