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Review: Way Down (2021)

Way Down (2021)

Directed by: Jaume Balagueró | 117 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Freddie Highmore, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Sam Riley, Liam Cunningham, Jose Coronado, Luis Tosar, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, Axel Stein, Daniel Holguín, Famke Janssen, James Giblin, Frank Feys, Fernando Martín, Vicente Gil

Child stars come in all shapes and sizes. There are, of course, plenty of examples of tragic young stars who never learned to cope with their fame and lost themselves in drink and drugs. While some eventually overcome their addiction and experience newfound success as an adult (such as Drew Barrymore, for example), others become entangled in a web that is difficult for them to break out (Corey Haim, Brad Renfro to name a few). You also have child stars who lose too much of their huggability and charm as they grow up and are suddenly less interesting to the general public. Why did former child star Christian Bale grow into a big, Oscar-winning star and did Macauley Culkin’s star power dry up as soon as he hit puberty? Another interesting comparison is that between Haley Joel Osment, the boy from ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) who captivated us with his ‘I see dead people’ and Freddy Highmore, who broke through with the general public as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton’s colorful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (2005). Where Osment (who could also be seen in ‘Forrest Gump’, 1994) lost his vulnerable charm and can hardly be seen today, Highmore also experiences success on the small screen in his twenties with acclaimed roles in, among others, ‘Bates Motel ‘ and ‘The Good Doctor’.

On the silver screen, Highmore also has to search for the right role. Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró – best known for the horror film series ‘REC’ – cast him in his heist film ‘Way Down’ (2021, released in the US under the title ‘The Vault’) as Thom, a brilliant young engineer who Just about any large multinational can get to work, but chooses to work with the mysterious Lorraine (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who turns out to be recruiting for Walter (Liam Cunningham), completely against his father’s wishes. Walter retrieved an ancient treasure from Spanish waters a year earlier with his diving and salvage company, but to his great frustration had to immediately return it to the Spanish authorities. The treasure is now kept at the Bank of Spain in Madrid, in one of the most heavily guarded and most difficult to crack. There is also a guard (José Coronado) in the bank who takes his job just a little too seriously. Walter already has a whiz kid (Axel Stein), a logistics expert (Luis Tosar) and his veteran fellow treasure hunter James (Sam Riley) on board and the dexterous master con artist Lorraine, but he still needs a “man with a plan,” someone who plans and prepares the squat down to the last detail and that person has to be Thom. The ideal moment for the squat is presented on a silver platter: the Spanish national football team will play the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg in a few days; the whole football mad Spain is flat when the very first world title can be won against the Netherlands (!).

Heist films or capers usually rely on an exciting structure, an ensemble that is attuned to and complement each other, an ingenious and often slightly too complex plan and a touch of humor. In any case, the set-up of ‘Way Down’ is promising, with a short intro explaining the origin of that oh so precious treasure and we see what happened when Walter and James fished the treasure from the sea. Once the character Thom is brought into the operation, it all becomes less convincing; why does this good boy turn down all those lucrative deals and why does he go into business with strangers? The adventure will apparently beckon, but Thom’s motives are not clear and that continues to haunt the character throughout the film. Perhaps it is the appearance of Highmore, who has already portrayed psychopath Norman Bates, but always keeps that sweet appearance, which is not entirely appropriate here. The ensemble as a whole looks somewhat phlegmatic, while Cunningham and Riley in particular have already proven themselves with earlier work. The fun that should be splashed about with such a cracking film is missing. Balagueró seems to have paid by far the most attention to the look of his film – after all, the eye also wants something and with that he can probably divert attention from the flawed script that was written by no fewer than five different writers. And it must be said: visually ‘Way Down’ is not inferior to the toppers in the heist genre, thanks to excellent work by director of photography Daniel Aranyo. But it obscures the weaknesses in the script, like that we sense from the start that one of the crew members doesn’t have entirely pure intentions, unfortunately not.

‘Way Down’ wants to be that exciting, exciting caper that radiates energy, passion and fun. But where a really good film lets us see, feel and experience all of that, the script of this film simply lets the characters recite it. So you see that a handful of sympathetic actors, an interesting premise and inspired cinematography are not enough to make a strong film. ‘Way Down’ is certainly not annoying to watch, but you will soon forget this film afterwards.

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