The Vault offers plenty of slick, heisty fun, but is hampered a bit by some unfortunate, charisma-sucking casting choices.
Best known as the writer and director of three of the four films in the found-footage horror series REC, Jaume Balagueró makes a huge leap in scope and ambition with his new heist thriller The Vault (releasing in some parts of the world under the equally generic title Way Down). Beginning with a brief prologue set in 1645, as a sinking ship loses its cargo in the depths of the sea, the film skips ahead to 2009, where a salvage crew is attempting to retrieve the now long-lost sunken treasure. Led by the tough, taciturn Captain Walter Moreland (the great Liam Cunningham) and his right-hand man James (Sam Riley), the team secures the loot but is caught by the Spanish Coast Guard. After an international legal battle, the courts decide that the Spanish government has the rights to the treasure, not Moreland’s salvage crew. Undaunted, Moreland decides to steal the treasure back for himself. Using some outlandish, but fun, cloak and dagger nonsense, Moreland reaches out to Thom (Freddie Highmore), a brilliant engineering student who he thinks will be able to help him break into the most secure vault in Europe, located in and under The Bank of Spain. The issue, as Moreland describes it to Thom, is that they have to solve a problem, but they don’t even know what the problem is. The vault is almost a hundred years old, and so contains no modern technology to hack or drill, and is instead a mysterious feat of engineering that has never been seen from the inside. Having already assembled the rest of the team — the aforementioned James, art expert/honey trap Lorraine (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), tech guy Klaus (Axel Stein), and equipment handler Simon (Louis Tosar) — Moreland and Thom lay out two different plans, the success of one necessary to the success of the other. First, getting information and schematics about the vault itself, and then how to get in and out of it, if such a thing is even possible.
All of this is set against the real-life backdrop of Spain’s national football team making a historic run-up to the World Cup finals in 2010, the eyes of the nation distracted enough for this crew to pull off their ambitious robbery. The film has five credited screenwriters, but miraculously the narrative is cohesive, following a strictly linear chronology that has the team devise and then execute multiple small missions, each of which adds up to part of the overarching master plan. The detailed plot is an intricate feat of engineering itself, with clear goals and a keen sense of geography as team members spread out and infiltrate multiple parts of the bank simultaneously. Unfortunately, there’s nothing anyone can do to make Thom an interesting character. He’s clearly intended as a kind of audience surrogate, allowing different characters to explain terms and techniques to this young novice in what amounts to straightforward exposition. But Highmore is a black hole of charisma, a deeply uninteresting actor who stops the movie cold whenever his character becomes the focal point of a given scene. The Vault is still a lot of fun, obviously indebted to Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job but with the slick veneer and sleight of hand of Now You See Me, but this unfortunate bit of casting keeps it from being more than just an engrossing lark. Still, sometimes that’s enough.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | March 2021.