TIFF22: ‘The Umbrella Men’ Review: A Delightful Heist Tale That Inspires

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival showcases films from around the world to North American audiences. A highlight of this year’s Festival was The Umbrella Men. Heist films are always a safe bet to leave viewers with an equally tense yet enjoyable movie experience. The combination of humor and tension is a great one. Throw in some excellent music, and you have the makings of an all-around fun time. 

The Umbrella Men follows Jerome (Jaques De Silva) as he buries his father and takes over his beloved Goema Club. He also inherits his father’s minstrel troupe, The Umbrella Men, who are a feature of the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. Jerome must navigate the debts and enemies that come with inheriting the club, and must band together to protect himself and his father’s legacy. What unfolds is crime story with lots of comedy and incredible music. 

At its core, The Umbrella Men is a heist movie. It perfectly combines humor, a misfit crew, and actual dangerous stakes. Even when members of this group are unsympathetic, they’re incredibly fun to watch. They’re relatable, and one can’t help but cheer for them, even when they’re using questionable methods to achieve their goals. Their individual motivations make for a chaotic combination that makes for a lot of hijinks along the way. This movie is the best kind of heist film, using the template to near perfection.

Incorporating animation into a live-action movie can be tricky. At worst, it can take viewers out of the experience completely. At best, it can add to the story being told, and can engage viewers on a deeper level. There is just enough animation here to enrich the story being told. This is an effective way to add exposition, rather than giving it to a character to simply recite what is happening on-screen. It also adds just the right amount of levity. 

The music throughout this movie is immersive. This version of minstrelsy is a fascinating one. This movie captures the rich history of this musical tradition, combining traditional Indigenous melodies and rhythms with sounds forced upon them by the colonizers. The result is completely unique musical experience. The entire score is beautiful, and emcompasses the life-affirming nature of this musical genre. If anything, there could have been many more musical numbers, and it still wouldn’t have been enough.

This movie also features breathtaking use of scenery, to fully immerse the audience in Cape Town’s richness. The style and pacing also add to the movie’s overall effect, and lends to a more fulsome viewing experience. It’s immersive, and shows off the color and dynamic energy of South Africa. The movie makes use of every moment of it’s runtime, and there’s not a second wasted.

The Umbrella Men is a fun ride, from beginning to end. With endearing performances, gorgeous set pieces, and just an enjoyable story, it’s a complete package. It keeps viewers on the edge of their seat, and has enough twists and turns to keep everyone guessing. It’s a perfectly enjoyable, tense, and hilarious movie-watching experience. 

The Umbrella Men has its International Premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

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