Monday With Mildred: “The Vault”

The Vault movie poster

The Vault

Some genres require sticking to the formula more than others. Zombie movies come to mind. Heist films also really need to cover the basics, like having some kind of treasure that people are going to steal, while working past glitches in a tricky plan. Leaving out even one of these weakens the structure.

The Vault is a Spanish made movie that calls on bits of Spanish history to create an interesting new heist niche, beginning with a burning shipwreck in 1645 that we see from below as first the anchor then a wooden and iron box hurtles past on the way to Davey Jone’s Locker. Most people associate 17th century Spanish ships with doubloons, so this is an easy hint that there’s a ton of money waiting for whoever finds this shipwreck. Fast forward four hundred years and we watch exactly that, as divers approach the intact ship far beneath the waves and throw the box into a cage to pull it up to the salvage ship.

*screeetch!*

Really? Four hundred years and everything, including a ship that supposedly burned to a crisp before sinking, is just there for the taking? No scraping four hundred years of accretions off and carefully pulling the probably very damp wooden box to the surface where it would soak in special solutions for a few years to harden it enough to work with? Doesn’t anyone else watch Nova? Apparently not these salvage operators, who immediately open the box, arrange the golden treasures on a tarp and hose them down with fresh water to clean them. When I stopped laughing, then e-mailing an acquaintance who teaches underwater archaeology, I turned the movie back on to see what other ridiculous things were in store.

The first thing I noticed was the choice of a perpetually smirking young man (Freddie Highmore, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as the smart young man who swoop in to save the day for the salvage operators trying to steal back the treasure from the Spanish government who said thank you very much for digging up our treasure, now beat it. Apparently, ocean salvage and robbing an impenetrable vault use exactly the same skill sets. Thom is a really, really bright kid whose rich daddy wants him to make tons of money with his engineering degree, not help poor people. Thom really wants to help poor people, though, so he goes off with the gang who swigs expensive wine in a swank Madrid apartment while plotting the theft. Smirking the whole time. I hate smirks.

The impenetrable vault trope is interesting here because pretty much all they know is it’s under the bank and that it has never been robbed. There’s no 3D rendering of the 1940s tomb and all its locking mechanisms. They literally have to figure out where it’s at, and then they have to figure out what makes it impenetrable. The set of characters who each have a quirky strength aren’t as quirky as a lot of heist movies, but they’re mostly distinguishable from each other. One is a heroic diver, as witnessed by throwing off all his diving gear to fit into the small hole in the side of the burned out and drowned for four hundred years but somehow still intact treasure ship. Another is a procurement specialist who is the only Spanish speaking member of the crew. There’s even a Euro version of Parker from Leverage. She’s blond. She cracks safes and is icy under pressure. But she’s no Parker, the most adorable thief ever imagined for the screen. I not only didn’t give a hang about her, but I kinda didn’t like her. I felt that way about all the thieves, especially smirking boy.

The twisty plot hinging on a lot of tricky bits of thievery was good. NotParker nearly gets caught, smirky boy nearly gets caught, but they all carry on heroically. The camera work was especially good, with several gorgeous high shots and scenes that looked good whether in the ancient tunnels below the city or in the glittery bank. More often these days makers of heist films seem to be reluctant to put their characters in real danger, but The Vault really went there and it made a big difference in the quality of the movie. I wouldn’t have cared if they’d all been bound in chains and made to walk the plank, but I appreciate a few good scrapes.

I definitely recommend seeing this if you’re a fan of heist movies. There are problems, like irritating music, unlovable characters, and a ridiculous setup, but mostly I enjoyed it. I was disappointed that it’s another example of an American movie set in another country, like The Night Eats the World, which robs it of a chance to create a different feel, but it didn’t bother me too much. Just don’t ask me to say what the treasure was for sure, because I don’t really remember what made these gold coins so important, like in the Maltese Falcon (The Maltese falcon is known as a MacGuffin, a plot device in the form of some goal or desired object that the characters are willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to achieve or possess. Usually, the exact details of the MacGuffin’s importance are unexplained or sometimes not even integral to the narrative.)

CFR: In Addition: Well, huh. I have Netflix….

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