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‘The Vault’ houses a heist that’s preposterous but rich with personality

Liam Cunningham and Freddie Highmore lead the sparkling cast of thieves just crazy enough to try to claim treasure buried deep under the Bank of Spain.

Thom (Freddie Highmore, left) and Lorraine (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) are part of the team plotting to retrieve treasure hidden under the Bank of Spain in “The Vault.”
Saban Films/Paramount Pictures

Ah, they should have just called it “Walter’s Half-Dozen.”

The utterly preposterous, check-your-logic-at-the-door heist movie “The Vault” is a sleek and well-choreographed effort with echoes of better movies such as “Ocean’s 11” and “The Italian Job,” but it has a cheeky personality all its own thanks to the unique target — a putatively impenetrable safe beneath the Bank of Spain — and a sparkling cast led by Liam Cunningham, Freddie Highmore, Sam Riley, Famke Janssen and Astrid Berges-Frisbey.

Set against the backdrop of Spain’s run to the FIFA World Cup in 2010, this is a sometimes convoluted but entertaining thriller with some pulse-pounding sequences where nearly move is fraught with peril and we hold our breaths hoping our antiheroes can pull off the Heist of the Century (or at least ONE of the Heists of the Century).

The Irish-born Cunningham, best known for his role as Davos Seaworth a.k.a. “The Onion Knight” on “Game of Thrones,” is squarely in his comfort zone as Walter Moreland, a salty old British deep-sea shipwreck salvager who finds a legendary treasure buried by Sir Francis Drake — only to have it seized because the prize was in Spanish national waters. Walter also happens to be a heist-master of considerable skills, so he maps out a crazy plan to reclaim the treasure from the vault some 120 feet below the Bank of Spain — a vault with a series of steel doors, a vault that floods to drown any would-be thieves. It’s an impossible mission, I tell ya!

Or issssssss it?

Walter’s crew includes the former MI6 operative and ace diver James (Sam Riley), master of disguises and cons Lorraine (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), the sentimental, reliable old hand Simon (Luis Tosar) and the German computer hacker Klaus (Axel Stein). But to complete the puzzle he needs the talents of one Thom Laybrick (Freddie Highmore), a genius-level engineering school graduate with a rebellious streak who is in the midst of turning down six-figure job offers from oil companies when he gets a mysterious text inviting him to change his life forever — and before you can say “screenplay contrivance,” Thom is all-in on the dangerous mission, which will result in either a lifetime of riches or a near-lifetime prison sentence.

Jose Coronado does splendid work as Gustavo, the tough-minded, no-nonsense head of security for the Bank of Spain, who has an obsessive dedication to his work and doubles/triples/quadruples security measures when he gets wind of an attempted heist of the vault. (Not to give too much away, but if Gustavo had seen “Speed” he would have been hip to one of the tricks pulled off by Walter and company.) “The Vault” takes detours into subplots involving a possible romance between Thom and Lorraine; a British government attorney played by Famke Janssen, who is Walter’s ally but maybe she isn’t, and the story behind Simon and the portable radio he carries with him at all times. All of it leads to a thrilling climax and then a rather strange epilogue. To the very end, we still have some unanswered questions. “The Vault” isn’t airtight, but it works as a slick piece of escapist entertainment.