The title “The Vault”, is clearly as generic as movie titles can get. A typical title for a straight to video release, that is anything but catchy. “The Vault” has all the beats of a heist thriller, including: all the typical heist prepping, close encounters, dastardly escapes, tension among crew members, blown plans, set-ups, close calls and “the job is off!” meltdowns before it’s time for the actual heist. While Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró (director of “Rec”) executes them all surprisingly well. He really doesn’t stray from the conventional heist clichés or the genre’s tropes. But really what heist films ever stray from these tropes? Balagueró mounts a handsome, fun, intense, bigger and better heist thriller than your run of the mill straight to home video release.
Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) and Sam Riley (Maleficent) play Walter and James, one a seeker of fortune and one a former special-ops agent exploring centuries-old shipwrecks to locate any underwater treasure. Just as Walter and James discover a trove of treasures in a sunken Spanish ship, the authorities arrive and confiscate their bounty and put it in lock down in an impregnable bank vault. Of course Walter wants his findings back and reaches out to a promising young engineer named Thom (Freddie Highmore) whom he believes can help them gain access to the vault and then figure out how to use the recovered treasure to locate the even bigger payday. Intrigued by the opportunity and bored from lucrative offers for corporate gigs after he graduates from a university, Thom agrees to join the team and the planning begins.
Unfortunately, the team soon discovers what they’re up against: a sealed vault in the basement of the bank of Spain, with a complicated alarm system that will flood with water if triggered. But as the 2010 World Cup gets underway, driving people into the streets outside the building and providing possible cover. Walter, James, Thom and their teammates Simon (Tosar), Lorraine (Bergès-Frisbey) and Klaus (Axel Stein) race into action to figure out a way to infiltrate the bank without setting off the alarms, if they can get past the dozens of armed guards being led by security expert Gustavo (José Coronado) who will stop ap nothing to apprehend them.
Highmore makes it easy to believe that Thom is a bored genius who discovers an excitement he never experienced before. The young Freddie Highmore, best known from “Bates Motel” and “Finding Neverland” (also the films producer) is presented as the lead character. Although I was more interested in Liam Cunningham’s treasure hunter and heist mastermind Walter. The veteran actor delivers the feature’s best performance, offering to give director Jaume Balaguero a quiet intensity as Walter figures out a way to take on a security system that’s been in place for nearly a century. “The Vault” gets the plot up and running rather quickly with introductions and early infiltration schemes, including a mission for Thom and Lorraine to help learn more about the size of the vault, requiring undercover work and a few near misses.
“The Vault” manages to keep a very brisk pace for a two hour film, coming in the tradition of “National Treasure” meets “The Italian Job” meets “The Bank Job”. It’s all thanks to Jaume Balagueró who directs in an exquisitely tight fashion, capturing the thrill of the plan and the zeal of the World Cup games literally being viewed by thousands just outside the building. The crime itself has its share of thrills, one under water sequence, an intense crawl across a ladder and an open gap. They even do something ridiculous (hey maybe it is possible?), but pretty clever by movie standards with ice.
“The Vault” sticks to basics and the lack of character development is forgivable. But the thrilling climatic sequence delivers on Balaguero’s promise that his film will deviate from the formula enough to give us a thrilling old-fashioned heist film for the crowd, that creates genuine suspense. “The Vault” operates on the notion that is key to any good heist movie: that if it can be built, it can be hacked. Or where there’s a will, there is a way. The scenes, the setting and the characters are all familiar, but “The Vault” moves very quickly and efficiently to consider this heist a real success.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)