The Bonded Vault heist is among the largest in US history, with $30 million USD worth of valuables (equivalent to over $140 million today) stolen from safe deposit boxes used by the Rhode Island mafia. As previously mentioned, VAULT is a loose retelling of the background and aftermath of the heist, centred on the friendship between Deuce (Theo Rossi) and Chucky (Clive Standen), two childhood friends turned small-time criminals suddenly out of their depth.
Rossi is the film’s true lead, which I was pleasantly surprised to see given his film roles haven’t yet provided as strong a showcase as his TV work. Look no further than Ghosts of War, a film I just reviewed but can barely remember him being in. Deuce isn’t a very good character name and hearing it constantly got on my nerves, but Rossi’s affected swagger and charm throughout the first and second acts are nevertheless a huge part of why VAULT worked for me. There’s a reason the heist begins with him walking in alone, calmly and confidently making his demands: it exemplifies the film’s ethos of avoiding a gritty look at the crime and just doing what looks cool.
Similarly, from what I’ve read it appears that the script greatly expands on the relationship between Deuce and Karyn (Samira Wiley), a victim of one of the former’s earlier robberies. It doesn’t really make sense that Karyn would agree to a date with him afterwards, but Wiley is so good at cutting through Deuce’s posturing that it’s once again simply fun to see more of the character. In addition, when the third act undergoes a significant tonal shift from 70s indulgence to claustrophobic drama, the newfound tension greatly benefits from Wiley’s presence. While Rossi aptly portrays Deuce’s paranoid mindset as his savings dwindle and drug use increases, this wouldn’t be as interesting without Karyn telling him to get his shit together.
Building up the Deuce and Karyn relationship is overall a solid choice by the writers, though I’d also blame it for the lack of development in other characters. The biggest casualty is Gerry Ouimette (Don Johnson, also an executive producer), who has three scenes but is suggested to be a bigger player than depicted due to Chucky constantly name-dropping him. Gerry was in fact a high-ranking member of the Rhode Island mafia; VAULT speculates that a lack of respect from his boss led him to contract Chucky and Deuce for the heist. However, too much of this is left off-screen, including the specifics of Gerry’s initial pitch for the heist and agreement with Chucky, who subsequently enlists Deuce. This leaves Chucky with little to no apparent motivation, making it hard for me to be invested in him, and frustrated when his plan affects the characters I actually care about.
Where VAULT succeeds, it does so by recognising that heist films should be fun and committing to that tone. The 70s aesthetic does wonders for this, with some excellent costumes, hairstyling and set design ensuring there’s always a reminder of the era on-screen. I wish that the script had taken more time to flesh out its take on an interesting true story, but what it does provide was enough to keep me hooked.