There has been no shortage of heist films over the years with directors from all over the world trying their hand at making one. Sure, they’re rather formulaic but they can be a lot of fun to watch if they’re done right… IF they’re done right. With WAY DOWN (also known as THE VAULT), Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró (three of the four [REC] films) has decided to throw his hat into the ring with a film that features a multinational cast and an alphabet soup of screenwriters. The latter is never a good sign.
Walter Moreland (Liam Cunningham, TV’s GOT) is a modern-day treasure hunter. No sooner has he and his team – comprising former British MI5 (or maybe MI6, I can’t remember, not that it’s important) operative, James (Sam Riley, the MALEFICENT films; RADIOACTIVE), Spanish logistics guy Simon (Luis Tosar, MIENTRAS DUERMES), German computer hacker extraordinaire Klaus (Axel Stein) and pan-European art expert and master of cheap wig wearing Lorraine (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD) – come upon a sunken Spanish galleon laden with gold and other precious items, the Spanish customs authorities swoop down on their boat and confiscate the bounty, depositing it into one of the world’s most impregnable vaults, located way down inside the bowels of the Bank of Spain in Madrid. No problem getting it out, right? Well, slight problem because the vault is connected to a water tank that opens up and floods the chamber should the vault’s security get breached. That’s true, by the way. Moreland has done his homework and he realises that there’s only one possible person who could figure out how to get them in and out of the vault safely. That’s Cambridge University engineering student Thom Laybrick (Freddie Highmore, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY; TV’s THE GOOD DOCTOR), who is such a whizz at problem solving, companies are falling over themselves trying to recruit him. But Thom is intrigued by Moreland’s offer of unimaginable riches – even though Thom seemingly comes from a wealthy family – and the prospect of doing something exciting after graduation. Wanting to coincide their heist with the 2010 World Cup Final when thousands of Madrid’s football fans will gather outside the bank by la Fuente de Cibeles, this city’s most famous fountain, to watch the game on big screens, the team immediately goes to work but, of course, they have their share of impossible challenges along the way, including trying to outsmart the bank’s diligent security chief, Gustavo Medina (Jose Coronado), who doesn’t let his guard down for one moment.
Now where have we seen this before? Of course, there are the natural comparisons to the OCEAN’S films and even Thom comments on the connection. The bigger similarity, though, is with the Netflix series MONEY HEIST. Season 3 is exactly this! Perhaps WAY DOWN’s screenwriters were working on this film while the MONEY HEIST team was working on theirs. That happens, and when it does, the pressure is on for the second place team to come up with a better story. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here. Balagueró gives audiences a cliché laden film featuring a cast of B-list actors. Highmore, who also got a producer credit, has all the charisma of a soggy piece of French toast. He does have the film’s best line, though, when he says, “I’m an engineer”. Yeah, when I want to pull off the mother of all heists, I’m going to make sure I hire an engineering student because no one else can problem solve like they can.
But he’s not the only one who suffers from a lack of charisma. Liam Cunningham, who perhaps played the second most boring character on GAME OF THRONES (after Iain Glenn’s Jorah Mormont), is no George Clooney. I would not be putting my life in his hands even if the potential payoff was in the hundreds of millions of euros. The biggest casting mystery, though, goes to Dutch actress Famke Janssen (the X-MEN franchise; the TAKEN franchise; TV’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER), who plays a British government official who is a friend of Moreland. What? Balagueró couldn’t get a British actress?
While WAY DOWN is far from being a dumpster fire, it’s just not very exciting to watch. We’ve seen it before and we’ve seen it done much better.
WAY DOWN opens in cinemas today in Hong Kong. Save your money.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 5th, 8:30 am HK time!
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