‘The Vault’ (2021) movie review: Jaume Balagueró’s crackerjack heist movie a blast

A team of treasure seekers targets the historic real-life vault underneath the Bank of Spain in The Vault (titled Way Down in some markets) a first-rate and entirely riveting heist movie from director Jaume Balagueró ([REC]).

Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham stars in The Vault as treasure boat captain Walter Moreland, who has retrieved sunken booty from a centuries-old shipwreck after years of efforts with his team of experts – only to have it seized by Spanish officials as soon as he hauls it up.

International courts offer no help in getting it back until Spanish authorities can assess the find and determine its value – which Moreland already knows includes the coordinates to an even greater haul of riches. British intelligence official Margaret (Famke Janssen, in a two-scene cameo despite top billing) suggests he look for alternative routes of getting it back.

Together with partner and ex-spy James (Control’s Sam Riley), master of disguises Lorraine (King Arthur’s Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), muscle Simon (Luis Tosar), and tech support Klaus (Axel Stein), Moreland plots to break into one of Spain’s most secure locales. And the team recruits brilliant university student Thom (Freddie Highmore) to crack the impenetrable mechanism holding their goods.

Here’s the kicker: their treasure is locked up in an ages-old vault underneath the Bank of Spain in Madrid. The vault is protected by a device that floods the chamber if accessed without authorization, drowning anyone inside. And no one has ever deciphered exactly how the thing actually works.

The historic flooding vault is a real-life attraction in Madrid. It also was employed in Netflix’s similarly-themed Money Heist, which featured scenes of characters risking drowning to get at the riches inside.

Lucky for the characters here, The Vault happens to be set during the 2010 World Cup as Spain slowly makes their way towards the finale. An increasingly-large crowd manifests outside the Bank of Spain in central Madrid to watch the games in the nearby square, creating the perfect diversion.

The Vault is a single-minded heist thriller that devotes the majority of its running time to detailing the complex plan the characters devise, the complications that arise during the way, and the thrilling heist itself split, which is split across two intense and lengthy sequences during the film’s second sand third acts.

Characters take a back seat here, but Highmore is engaging as the hotshot young recruit, and Cunningham makes for a perfect captain. Jose Coronado is also fun as the bank’s security chief, who is quick to catch onto the team while his guards turn their eyes to the World Cup.

Balagueró’s no-nonsense approach to the storytelling may turn some off, but it’s this incredible attention to detail that makes The Vault so engaging: we always know where the characters are, what they’re trying to do, and what stakes are at hand. This leads to climactic heist sequences that genuinely pay off, despite one (obvious) Hollywood-style twist.

The Vault is less an Ocean’s Eleven heist movie content to surprise and amuse the audience, and more a Jean-Pierre Melville-style riff in the vein of Bob le Flambeur or Le Cercle Rouge that lays all the cards on the table and lets the narrative suck us in. All that’s truly missing here is a charismatic lead on the level of an Alain Delon or Jean-Paul Belmondo.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

0 Responses

  1. Goof: How did the coordinate of the lost treasure get engraved in the century-old coins? There are no GPS yet at that time when the coins got sunk.

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