Synopsis: When an engineer learns of a mysterious, impenetrable fortress hidden under the Bank of Spain, he joins a crew of master thieves who plan to steal the legendary lost treasure while the whole country watches the World Cup.
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Liam Cunningham, Sam Riley, Famke Janssen, Luis Tosar, José Coronado
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Though I’ve been reviewing movies on this site for years by this point, I continue to be flabbergasted when I see otherwise rather decent movies shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to seriously poor marketing. Pandemic or not, each film that makes its way for public consumption should have some kind of advance marketing, be it a teaser poster or short trailer that premiers before the final advertising that gives a more well-rounded look at what the film is about for audiences. Ideally, audiences could read a short synopsis (like the one provided above) and let that be their gut guide if the film is for them but, as we are well aware, most of the casual movie-going public does need a bit of handholding to get them to their seat.
That’s why I was so surprised after seeing The Vault just what a real tough nut to crack it was when it came to finding even a legit poster to use for the header of my review or even a decent production photo. It’s like the studio releasing the movie decided to show their confidence in it by not devoting any substantial effort to give publicists or marketing teams adequate material for press to feature. Even if the movie apparently changed titles in the US (from the more bland Way Down which it goes by in European territories) late in the game, there’s little excuse for the questionably designed work you see above that makes an old-fashioned heist film with high tech touches look like a soupy amped up spy actioner. It’s even more of a pity considering this sometimes creaky but mostly well-oiled machine isn’t half bad and actually is quite well made.
Beginning with a promising opening that includes a brief introduction concerning a grizzled treasure boat captain Walter Moreland (Liam Cunningham, War Horse) finding the remains of a shipwreck in the Atlantic that went down in 1645, it’s likely you’ll be like me and wonder why the film wasn’t snapped up by a major studio. He’s after a particular item from this fabled ship but just as he thinks he has it in his possession, Spanish customs agents arrive and confiscate his plunder that was discovered off their coast. Though he pleads his case in front of the judges in the Hague, Moreland is denied access to the item and it’s soon locked away in a Madrid bank vault notoriously impossible to break into. Not even his connection with a British operative (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye) who, based on their past interactions likely has an agenda of her own, can get him what he wants.
At the same time, brilliant but socially awkward engineer Thom (Freddie Highmore, August Rush) is being courted by a number of companies that are offering him big paychecks but not for the kind of work he feels drawn to. His expertise has attracted Moreland and he presents Thom a way to, if not make a difference on the world, at least have an adventure and shake up his staid existence. Weighing a future tied to a corporate behemoth or risking it all for a man he barely knows that won’t tell him exactly what he’s walking into, Thom makes the choice that best suits his immediate needs…and that’s joining Moreland’s crew to steal back the key to a fortune that’s been hidden for over three hundred years.
Joined by former spy and second in command James (Sam Riley, Maleficent), brawny Simon (Luis Tosar), tech geek Klaus (Axel Stein), and chameleon-like Lorraine (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Thom has little time to get up to speed on Moreland’s plan to penetrate the impenetrable bank. There’s a mystery to be solved as to what exactly protects the vault and that’s why they need Thom, first to help them figure out what the security is and second how to get around it. As with any good heist films, director Jaume Balagueró (Muse) inserts a breathless early break-in designed as recon for the main event and it’s this sequence when the heat in The Vault really starts to boil over. There are the expected double crosses, near misses, and somewhat implausible turn of events but it’s all handled with a light touch by Balagueró and feels in line with the Oceans 11 franchise, which Thom even references at one point.
A team is only as strong as its weakest link so having that essential chemistry between Moreland’s group is critical. I got a kick out of Tosar’s rough tough guy with a soft center and he more than makes up for the personality that Riley lacks. Stein is perhaps a bit too conventional in the traditional tech guy role as is Bergès-Frisbey whenever the filmmakers are trying to force a romance subplot between her and Highmore. When they just let her be a good at her job and not grudgingly falling for the smarty pants new addition to their group, she shines. Janssen is kind of getting unrecognizable and her looks seems to change from scene to scene…I’ll just leave it at that. That brings us to Highmore and Cunningham who make for a nice leading duo, though for some reason Cunningham gets billed quite far down the line. Highmore may be an obvious choice for a highly intelligent engineer but he’s an off the wall candidate to lead a burglary thriller, yet he does it quite nicely.
With a total of five screenwriters (!) it’s amazing The Vault didn’t feel more patchy in places, but it has a relatively nice flow to it. At 118 minutes it could lose at least ten and ratchet up some tension for its audience a bit more, losing some unnecessary lovey dovey-ness that doesn’t need to be there. It works nicely to fill a gap to those that miss the mid-level budget thrillers that would often pop up every few weeks in theaters during the ‘90s. It would do as a rainy-day option or a weekend watch if the mood struck you just right.