'Vault': Film Review
Theo Rossi and Clive Standen star alongside Don Johnson and Chazz Palminteri in this New England period gangland drama.
Like a long-lost companion piece to Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, writer-director Tom DeNucci’s Vault provides a notably less glamorous take on a northeastern crime syndicate from the perspective of assorted Mafia sidekicks caught on the outside but desperate to get in. Like Pileggi’s true-crime book and Martin Scorsese’s adaptation Goodfellas, this account of the1975 Providence, R.I., $30 million Bonded Vault Company robbery is based in part on actual events. Although this Lionsgate theatrical and VOD release appears positioned to capture the imagination of many still enthralled by the excesses of organized crime’s late-century heyday, it looks unlikely to become another classic of the genre.
Knocking over pawnshops and jewelry stores has become routine for the Providence-area holdup team consisting of longtime buddies Deuce (Theo Rossi) and Chucky (Clive Standen). Now however, they’re ready for a bigger score, so why not rob a bank, or better yet, two banks in the same day? Well it turns out that small-time jobs are not the best preparation for the big time and now they’re cooling their heels in the pen. Like any ambitious young men though, they know that getting ahead is all about who you know, so Chucky jumps at the opportunity to provide muscle behind bars for Gerry “The Frenchman” Ouimette (Don Johnson). Deuce however isn’t so enthused about getting involved with the right-hand man for Providence Mafia boss Raymond Patriarca (Chazz Palminteri), a notorious gangster and executioner who comfortably continues running his racketeering, narcotics and extortion operations from inside his well-appointed jail cell.
Gerry says he has bigger plans for them though and once they’re released they discover what he means: taking down a private vault secreted inside a Providence fur storage facility that the Patriarca Mafia family and their criminal associates use to stash their cash and stolen loot. Relishing the chance for a big score, Deuce and Chucky realize they’ll need a bigger crew to deal with nearly 150 large safe-deposit boxes locked inside the cage. Fortunately Gerry’s recruited a half-dozen other pros, which helps the robbery go down smoothly after they neutralize the facility’s staff and force the owner to open the vault so they can thoroughly ransack it. Even the gang doesn’t know how much they get away with, although it turns out to be one of the largest heists in U.S. history, but they turn most of it over to Gerry while they lie low and hope for the heat to dissipate.
DeNucci emphasizes a low-key tone for the picture, which is as much a buddy movie tracking the evolution of Deuce and Chucky’s relationship and eventual falling out as it is a classic caper. By devoting the first half to the pair’s ill-fated early exploits and Deuce’s developing relationship with Karyn (Samira Wiley), his constant if sometimes reluctant supporter, DeNucci seeks to demonstrate the inviolability of their bonds. This devotion is contrasted with the mobsters, often contending among themselves and their Irish gangster rivals for criminal supremacy.
Preparation for the robbery and the actual heist get deliberately played down, sacrificing a sense of urgency that slackens the pacing, which bogs down in the third act as Deuce and Karyn go on the run. The absence of any significant law-enforcement activity or a readily identifiable FBI antagonist also diminish the magnitude of the threat they’re facing, even if a Mafia assassination campaign to eliminate members of the heist team does succeed in slightly upping the paranoia quotient.
Rossi and Standen strive to impress as a dynamic crime duo, but they’re not that persuasive even when they’re hauling off millions of dollars in loot, lacking any real expertise or menace. In a role that’s more functional than flashy, Johnson comes across as a born operator looking for a big payday who hasn’t got much to show for his ambitions. If Palminteri ever gets another vehicle as suited to his talents as The Usual Suspects it’ll be equally memorable, but this isn’t it, evidenced by his laid-back coasting through most of his scenes.
DeNucci has a good sense for period detail, costuming and accessorizing the cast with a color palette ranging from earthy yellow through fashionable beige to muddy brown. Stylistically though, the film doesn’t have much in common with its most distinctive progenitors, missing an opportunity to re-create an authentic '70s aesthetic.
Production companies: Grindstone Entertainment, Verdi Productions, Dos Dudes Pictures
Cast: Theo Rossi, Clive Standen, Samira Wiley, Don Johnson, Chazz Palminteri
Director: Tom DeNucci
Screenwriters: B. Dolan, Tom DeNucci
Producers: Chad A. Verdi, Nick Koskoff, Michelle Verdi, Matthew J. Weiss, Ryan M. Murphy
Executive producers: Nicholas Carmona, Ali Cesare, Joseph Cara Donna III, David Gere, Brian Goldberg, Don Johnson, Tanja Melendez Lynch, Chazz Palminteri, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Dawn Van Zant, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb
Director of photography: Sam Eilertsen
Production designer: Gabrael Wilson
Costume designer: Maura McCarthy
Editor: Zared Shai
Music: B. Dolan
Rated R, 99 minutes