The “cinematic baggage,” as it is known, that we bring with us into each film-viewing experience always has an effect on our perception of movies, even if this sensation is unconscious. We may love a film with a greater zeal, or conversely, our grievances may be amplified. This all depends on a host of conscious and sub-conscious factors from our daily lives that play into our personal taste in film and art as a whole. As for the baggage I brought into watching director Jaume Balagueró’s heist thriller, The Vault, — well, I just really love a good heist flick. I have encountered many movies from this genre over the course of my life, and I have found a way to appreciate the vast majority of them. Thus, bear in mind these preferences and biases as I examine Balagueró’s film.
The Vault is a new addition to the sub-genre of heist films that ties a sporting event to the central plot thread. A previous example that comes to mind is Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, in which the operation hinges on the cover of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the case of The Vault, the hustle and bustle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is the masquerade for a caper involving a map to hidden treasure and the most secure vault in the world located underneath the Bank of Spain. While the World Cup event itself is taking place in South Africa, the streets of Spain are packed with thousands of fans watching the action unfold on massive television screens mounted in the city square. The building of the Bank of Spain happens to be right in the center of the cluster, making it easier for the heist team to go about their business.
The team in question is led by the astute and wizened commander, Walter (Liam Cunningham), an archaeologist who is resentful after the Spanish government has seized his rare find from the wreckage of a sunken ship — a find that could potentially lead to…yet another incredible artifact. Even if the heist of the Bank is successful against overwhelming odds, this is just another rung in the ladder, another piece in the puzzle, another step on the ever-ascending stairway to God-knows-where. Walter is not in this for the money. He already has plenty of that. He wants to take back what he believes rightfully belongs to him and his team. As he says in reference to the thousands of soccer fans rooting so fervently for their team, in a reflection of his own motivations and ventures: “Unnecessary. Unessential. But it means everything. That’s passion.”
This line reminded of Michael Mann’s crime saga classic, Heat, specifically a quote from Al Pacino’s character, Vincent Hanna: “All I am is what I’m going after.” Granted, the degree of obsessiveness that you find in the characters of The Vault is not quite as intense as what you find with the characters in Heat, but the broader thematic parallels are certainly present. The Vault is a story about people who will stop at nothing to do whatever they want to accomplish, even if that only means opening up another door (physically and metaphorically) that restarts the cycle again. The thrill of the challenge and the action leaves Walter simultaneously energized and fatigued, restored and depleted. Climbing the mountain is the best and worst part of it all, but he keeps coming back to it because that is his ultimate passion.
Assisting Walter in his criminal escapades of self-fulfillment are a rather stereotypical crew of heist movie folks in possession of niche skillsets and designated plot devices that will come in handy at just the right moment. The fashion in which they are introduced to the viewer makes it seem that the director Balagueró is almost having fun leaning into these archetypes. There is Lorraine (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), the stealthy pickpocket who can blend into any persona or role that a delicate situation requires. Then, you have Klaus (Axel Stein), the tech expert. Also included is James (Sam Riley), Walter’s old friend and strategic master, along with Simon (Luis Tosar), the self-proclaimed “guy who can get things,” however obscure said things may be. And, the central piece of the squad is Thom (Freddie Highmore), “one of the world’s brightest minds, and hopefully, the key to our success,” as described by Walter. Indeed, the fabric of the operation is threaded together by Thom’s wit, instinct, and resolve. But, he also happens to be a college-aged kid with no background whatsoever in criminal enterprises.
During the same time that Walter recruits Thom, the young man’s intellectual assets are sought by all the biggest players in energy and oil around the world. The men in fancy three-piece suits tell him he could do some real good in the world with his gifts and abilities. But, these talking heads are symptoms of the stifling disease of capitalism. Thom understands that there are far superior avenues for his brainpower, routes that will legitimately challenge him as a problem solver, allow him to do something worthwhile, and perhaps provide some excitement to boot. As Walter makes his offer to Thom, he is initially met with skepticism and a few sarcastic, meta quips along the lines of “what do I look like, Danny Ocean?” Yes, The Vault is a heist movie that is well aware of its place in the genre, playing into the tropes with a tongue-in-cheek demeanor that is still not at the cost of earnestness in the storytelling. Eventually, Thom accepts Walter’s proposal after hearing his spiel about passion, soccer crowds, and the essentiality (or lack thereof) of life’s adventures. The quirky, somewhat socially awkward kid is thrust into an exotic world that tests him mentally, emotionally, and physically as he never has been before.
The motion of events encompassing the heist gave me plenty of entertainment and amusement as a fan of the genre, even if there is nothing particularly unique. There are splashes of Mission: Impossible, National Treasure, and, of course, the Ocean’s films. The cinematography and editing are perfectly serviceable, but not exceedingly noteworthy. It is, once again, the passion of the characters in their endeavors that truly gives The Vault substance as a film and story. There is a spark of fun that comes from watching a group of people so relentless in their efforts attempt to pull off a feat that should not even be within the realm of possibility. It is neat to see the respective older and younger generations represented by the characters learn from one another, as they have their worldviews and perspectives shifted. And, it is cool to see the wildly talented Freddie Highmore hold his own as the lead in his first official R-rated film role, possibly leading to more projects of a similar nature in the future. If they are anything like The Vault, you can count me in.
In select theaters, on VOD, and digital March 26th, 2021.
Available on DVD June 1st, 2021.
For more information, head to Paramount Picture’s official The Vault website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.