The Vault

The Vault Review: A Heist-Thriller By Any Other Name…

...is still a heist-thriller.

The Vault, a heist-thriller directed by horror veteran Jaume Balagueró (the REC series), is nothing if not a formulaic film that apparently took five screenwriters to develop it into a relatively coherent script. There’s little here that can be described as surprising or shocking as Balagueró, a genre director with a classically unobtrusive style, takes an international cast through comfortingly familiar plot beats—each a slight, barely noticeable iteration on the last. Only the setting, Spain, and the year, 2010, offer any real difference from other similar genre entries. Yet for all that familiarity, The Vault manages to remain a superficially engaging addition through a two-hour running time that rarely feels superfluous.

That might sound like damning The Vault with faint praise and maybe it is, but it also falls in line with Balagueró and his collaborators’ obviously modest ambitions. They’re not trying to compete with Ocean’s star power or Mission: Impossible’s blockbuster-sized budgets. Put simply, they can’t, but what they can and have done is relatively straightforward: Use those limitations to their advantage. They start with the literal deep dive into the Atlantic Ocean that introduces Walter Moreland (Liam Cunningham), a wealthy salvager and treasure hunter, and his second-in-command, James (Sam Riley), an ex-special ops officer, off the coast of Spain as they discover a long-lost, sunken ship, the “Virgin of Guadalupe.” Unfortunately for Walter and Sam, they’re in Spanish, not international, waters, and their discovery becomes the de facto property of the Spanish government. After winning a court case, the Spanish government removes the treasure from public view, storing said treasure not just at the well-fortified Bank of Spain, but in the bank’s storied, near-mythical vault.

Engineered and constructed during the last, analog age, the vault is all but impregnable to modern thieves dependent on digital tools. A desperate man in desperate measure mode, Walter reaches out to Thom Laybrick (Freddie Highmore), a British engineering student with a genius IQ and lucrative post-university offers from multinational corporations. Apparently moved by a social and political conscience, Thom rejects those offers but takes up Walter’s, less because of the goal than because it offers him the real-world opportunity to do the near-impossible: Break into an unbreakable vault. It doesn’t hurt that Walter dangles Lorraine (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), Walter’s one-time ward turned partner-in-thievery, as bait for Thom’s twenty-something libido.

Balagueró and his screenwriting team hint here and there about a Thom and Lorraine romance, but it’s kept mostly in the background—presumably an unresolved plot thread that will receive additional development in the sequel promised in The Vault’s final moments. Until then, viewers will have to content themselves with chaste glances and the occasional handholding. No matter, of course, since The Vault’s central concern isn’t romantic drama, but the elaborate heist involving Walter, the team leader, James, the muscle and doubting Thomas, Thom, the engineering wunderkind and puzzle solver, Lorraine, a many-wigged con-artist and thief, Klaus (Axel Stein), a hacker’s hacker, and Simon (Luis Tosar), a born-and-raised Spaniard with ties to Spain’s black markets and criminal underground.

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Once the team members have been properly introduced and the Bank of Spain properly surveilled for any potential weaknesses, The Vault shifts to the heist proper. Conveniently, Walter and his team have the perfect cover for their heist: The World Cup. And not just any World Cup, but the 2010 World Cup that saw the Spanish side advance through the tournament to the finals against the Netherlands in closely contested, suspense-filled matches. (Spoiler: Spain won and it was glorious.) Balagueró exploits the FIFA backdrop to maximum effect—crosscutting between the heist, the World Cup final as it unfolds in real-time, and an increasingly suspicious Bank of Spain security team led by the hyper-vigilant Gustavo (Jose Coronado).

The sequel-ready non-ending ending is bound to disappoint some, if not all, viewers. In the likely event The Vault doesn’t get a hoped-for sequel, it still manages to deliver more than its fair share of procedural heist thrills, with all the usual twists and turns typical of the oeuvre. In the hands of a competent craftsman like Balagueró, a formulaic film like The Vault may not serve up profound themes or even well-developed, multi-dimensional characters, but what it does offer may just be worth the investment in time, labour, and streaming fees.

The Vault is available to purchase or rent via VOD platforms.

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