Fine Acting, Wit, and Stunning Visuals Make ‘Umbrella Men’ a Fond Addition to the Heist Film Genre

Ben Friedman

Everyone knows the filmmaking conventions that make a good heist movie: a mismatch of eccentric characters each with their own skill set, speeches about how the impossible task is actually possible, and the execution. Heist movies always feature the debonair hero, the hothead, the uneasy alliance, the romantic interest, and a villain. A heist film lives and dies on its storyteller’s ability to overcome the derivative and craft something exciting. John Barker’s The Umbrella Men represents the highs and lows of the genre.


A recent South African release selected for the Toronto International Film Festival, The Umbrella Men follows a band of musicians forced to rob a bank to save their beloved nightclub. Set in Bo-Kaap, a district within Cape Town, the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Motheo Moeng to showcase the colorful and culturally diverse neighborhood.


The filmmakers take joy in capturing the spirit of a community allowing the film to feel like a love letter to Bo-Kaap. Throughout the first act, establishing shots are abundant, welcoming the audience to the neighborhood with such enthusiasm. The direction is sweeping. The musical score is exciting. The setting is beautiful. On a technical side, the film is impressive; yet, by the end of its runtime, the film overstayed its welcome.


The Umbrella Men is clearly inspired by the heist films of director Steven Soderbergh. From the Ocean’s trilogy, Logan Lucky, and No Sudden Move, Soderbergh has proven himself to be one of the most critically and commercially successful heist directors of the 21st century. Barker pays homage to the works of Soderbergh, but oversteps in his tribute, making The Umbrella Men feel like a carbon copy.



It should be noted that I am not a big fan of Soderbergh’s style of direction and writing, which I often find contrived. As the second act kicks in, the film’s style shifts to that more akin to Soderbergh. The story becomes rehashed, lacking uniqueness and grinding the momentum of the film to a halt. Ultimately, when the film arrives to its finale, my investment was dwindling, and the familiarity of the heist robs the film of its tension.


Jaques Da Silva, Shamilla Miller, and Keenan Arrison all make for likable protagonists. They deliver the breezy humor of the script with ease. The Umbrella Men is often quite funny. The humor balances both interpersonal, tongue-in-cheek, and absurdism with delicacy. It is these moments when the film feels its own in style and tone.


The Umbrella Men is never groundbreaking but offers a light-hearted, well-acted, visually engaging film that pays a heavy hand to the films that come before it. Overall, for fans of heist movies, The Umbrella Men is a pleasant, albeit overly familiar entry within the genre.


Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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