Bank Robbers: The Last Great Heist 2022 Movie Review
The Argentinian documentary film “Bank Robbers: The Last Great Heist,” produced by Netflix, provides a detailed look into the meticulously planned robbery of a Banco Rio branch in Buenos Aires. Starring the main perpetrators of the incident, who themselves tell their story of the bank heist, the film throws light on the almost bizarrely grand idea and scheme, which was no less than heist missions in video games. Aside from the thrilling content, ‘Bank Robbers: The Last Great Heist’ also tries unusual styles in narrating its story, and this further adds to the entertainment as it uses miniature sets and dramatic reenactments with dummies of the events that unfolded on the day of the heist.
At around 12:38 pm on the 13th of January, 2006, Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina witnessed a shocking bank robbery in broad daylight, which turned out to be an elaborate heist that hoodwinked police and authorities. The Buenos Aires police’s special operations team, codenamed the Falcons, were quick to respond to the situation as the building had twenty-three hostages inside at the mercy of the robbers. An accomplished negotiator was also brought in to deal with the robbers’ demands, but when the police finally broke into the bank building, they could not find any of the perpetrators, as if they had all vanished into thin air. Sixteen years after this incident, which quickly became regarded as one of the greatest bank heists ever conducted, director Matias Gueilburt gets hold of the four major perpetrators involved in it, who then narrate their story of the dream heist.
It all originated from the ideas of Fernando Araujo, a man living his best years around 2003, as he had found his vocation as an artist. Araujo himself explains the arts he was interested in at that time—plastic arts, martial arts, and cannabis arts. Simultaneously creating art with plastic, practicing martial arts, and growing marijuana in an indoor farm, the man suddenly realized that there was something else he wanted to do, something greater—he wanted to rob a bank. Araujo quickly acted on his plan and set his target to be a two-story branch of Banco Rio in San Isidro, an affluent part of Buenos Aires. Thinking of digging a tunnel below the building, which would then easily lead to the underground vaults, Araujo discovered an already existing sewer tunnel that could be used to do the same. Next, he needed to find a way to build further sections in the tunnel to reach and then break into the bank from underground, and for this, he asked for help from someone with skilled expertise. Araujo admits that he wanted to conduct the robbery in a manner he finds artistic, making use of skills and not force, without hurting anyone involved, and for this, he gathered a very selective crew. First was Araujo’s old friend, Sebastian Bolster, who ran a jet ski workshop and had enough expertise in practical engineering. Bolster says that convincing him was not difficult, as his own family had been tremendously hurt financially, much like many other Argentinians, by the unstable conditions of Argentina’s banking system. Together with Araujo, Bolster mapped out the entire sewer tunnel underneath San Isidro, calculating its path towards the bank building and also constructing makeshift chambers to break into it. But as Araujo worked meticulously on how to avoid triggering the motion-sensor alarms in the vaults, the sense of the impossibility of the whole plan struck him, until he was struck with a grander plan, of course. Till now, his idea was that they would get into the underground vaults at a time when the bank would be closed, via the tunnel, and leave the same way, but this would immediately get them caught because of the alarms. Instead, he now decided to combine two separate ideas into one—they would enter the bank through the doorway, making it look like a normal bank robbery, take hostages and buy themselves time, get to the underground vaults from the inside, and then escape through the tunnel with all the money.
With their plan starting to take a solid shape, Araujo brought in a third person into the team; a person referred to as The Doc, who had ties with the super gangs of the 1990s and therefore had enough experience with large-scale criminal activities of this kind. While all the other perpetrators themselves appear in “Bank Robbers,” The Doc is not seen in it, and he is only spoken of. It was through The Doc that the rest of the men were brought into the gang—Beto de la Torre and Luis Mario Vitette. Beto had a life full of experience in criminal activities, starting from a young age, and he was added more as an enforcer to the heist gang, owing to the man’s immense physical strength. On the other hand, Vitette was an Uruguayan citizen who had a life of criminal adventures in his country, where he was jailed. One day, on a temporary visit, the man fled to Argentina and lived here, making money by committing more crimes. Vitette’s presence in the gang was mostly because he had a lot of money to bring in, and then he even played a crucial role in duping the authorities during the heist. Along with these five, another henchman referred to as The Kid and a getaway driver were also hired, as the group had planned an elaborate escape as well. After using raft boats to navigate through the tunnel to a significant distance away from the bank, they would climb out of a manhole and onto a van that they would use to drive away. As men randomly climbing out of the manhole would instantly raise suspicion, they decided to cut a big hole on the floor of the van, which would be parked right over the manhole, and the team would literally directly climb into the van. While working on this van, Beto’s wife Alicia walked in on them and got to know of the plan, but she gave them all support as well by keeping information about it to herself. Araujo admits that he had initially felt that his planning would take no more than a few months, starting in 2004, but due to the grand scale and yet detailed nature of the plan of action, it took the crew more than a year to get ready, and they were now ready to strike at the beginning of 2006.
On the day of the heist, Bolster arrived early and entered the tunnel to work on making a hole in the wall of the bank’s underground vault. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew assembled and then drove to Peru-Libertador Avenue, where the Banco Rio branch was located. The Doc, Beto, Vitette, and the Kid entered the branch, with masks over their faces and guns in their hands, and informed everyone that they were here to loot the bank, while Araujo entered a few minutes later. Despite taking all the bank workers and the customers inside hostage, they did not really cause any harm to any of them and waited for the police officials to arrive outside. Once they arrived, one of them took a hostage out in front of the bank, and posed as if he was scared of the police, and went into the bank again, this time locking the main doors. Two of them also went down to the basement and ordered the chief security officer to open up the doors, which would then lead to the vaults. While Vitette promised that nobody would harm him if he came out on his own, the security officer ultimately gave up and came out when the bank’s chief of operations, a hostage, requested him to do so. Vitette kept his word, as it was all part of the plan, and led the security officer upstairs and released him from the building. They had kept behind the man’s cell phone, though, which Vitette waved at the police officials outside, indicating that he wanted to talk to them over the phone, meaning that they wanted to have negotiations. As the authorities believed that the robbers were now feeling stuck inside with nowhere to go, they started to listen to their demands and try to negotiate some way out. The police spoke with Vitette, who also appeared on the second-floor windows, wearing a fake mustache, a yarmulke, a pair of glasses, and a gray suit, and this man came to be called “the man in the gray suit,” as authorities and press personnel did not know who he was. Vitette pretended to be trying to cut a deal with the police so that he and his gang would either be let free or the hostages would be left to go, but in reality, what he was doing was essentially buying time for the rest of his crew to go about stealing the money.
While all this was going on, the rest of the crew had shut off the gates to the parking area and brought out a large mechanism they had built to break into the underground vault lockers in which all the money was kept. As this machine was retrieved and taken downstairs to the basement, Bolster carved a hole in the vault’s wall and entered the building. He then took control of the machine, which he himself had planned and built, and kept opening up as many lockers as he could. Araujo was still treating this as a kind of art that he was performing, and quite remarkably, his plan was not to take all the money in the bank but to take as much as they could in two hours. Vitette held off the police for two hours, and then, when signaled by the rest, he told the authorities that they wanted to surrender and come out. But saying that they wanted to have one last hearty meal before it was over, he asked the police to bring them pizzas, which the authorities agreed to. When they arrived with the food and wanted to discuss how to give it to the perpetrators, there was no more response from Vitette. By this time, the man and the rest of his crew had gone down to the basement, climbed out through the hole with all the money they had stolen, and then started to raft their way towards the extraction point. The police barged into the building shortly after and rescued all the hostages, but there was no sign of the five armed burglars they had earlier seen. The team now carried out the rest of their plan with precision, and while news channels were still broadcasting about the bizarre nature of the crime and the fact that the perpetrators were still missing, Araujo and his men were counting their personal share of the money—large stacks of bills. The bank robbers had left with no trace of them other than a few intentional booby traps and a poetic, ironic message from Araujo, which read, “In a town of riches/Without weapons or grudges/There’s just money/And no more love.”
While the media reported that about twenty million dollars in cash and valuables had been stolen from the bank, the real exact figure was never known and still remains unmentioned to this day. As each of the perpetrators received their personal share, which was huge, to say the least, they all left the safehouse and went their individual ways. While some went away on getaways, others returned home and spent time with their families. Months later, the police still had no clue as to who had committed the major crime, which had made Argentinian police authorities look like ineffective embarrassments. As dramatic as the whole plan and the entire heist was, what ultimately led to the men’s downfall was also quite dramatic, at least in my personal opinion. However, considering the grand nature of the scheme, the undoing was rather anticlimactic. Beto’s relationship with his wife, Alicia, who had earlier got to know of the plan, started to grow bitter as Beto accused her of spending exorbitant amounts of his money while Alicia accused him of having an affair with another woman. At one point, this argument reached unfortunate heights, and Beto left his house with all the money that remained and went somewhere else. Alicia reacted by going to the police officials and telling them about her husband’s role in the heist, and Beto was immediately arrested.
After Beto’s arrest, he was made to talk about the other perpetrators, and the man only described them without taking any names. But arrests of the other men quickly followed, and finally, Fernando Araujo, who had gone off to a trekking route in San Juan, also gave up when authorities arrived. Four years after the heist, in 2010, the court trial for the case began, and the major issue became whether the guns they had carried were real or not. While the security officer and authorities wholly believed that the firearms they carried were real and could be fired, the crew kept maintaining that the guns were actually toys. If their guns were proven to be real, the prison sentence would have been much longer, but this did not ultimately happen, and the court stated that they were indeed toys, incapable of firing bullets. Beto was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, the getaway driver to ten years, Bolster to nine years, and Araujo to fourteen years. However, neither of the men served their full sentences, as Araujo remained behind bars for a year and a half, Bolster for a total of twenty-five months and two years under house arrest, Beto for eight and a half, and Vitette for around three years.
In the end, the effect that the crime had on the four main perpetrators also varied from person to person. Bolster speaks about how he was unable to mentally cope with being known as the bank robber who pulled off such a remarkable heist. While there were people to both condemn as well as congratulate him, the man himself was confused about how to perceive his actions, and this put a rather unwanted mental strain on him. Beto, too, talks about how the heist was definitely not worth doing, as he regrets having to spend so many days locked up in prison, which essentially wasted a long time of his life. On the other hand, Vitette seems to be rather enjoying the life that he has been able to carve out since the heist, as he continues to live in luxury. He enjoyed the notoriety and popularity that the character he pretended to be as the negotiator brought him, and Vitette looks back at “the man in the gray suit” as a performance he enjoyed having done. At the very beginning of the documentary, Fernando Araujo was asked about why he committed such an act, and the man explained how he wanted to do something that would transcend death, for which he would be remembered, and the bank heist was something that he decided on. Araujo, too, does not seem to mind the notoriety and popularity that his actions brought him, as in a sense, he is indeed remembered for them. Finally, ‘Bank Robbers: The Last Great Heist’ cheekily asks each of the four men about how much money they had exactly stolen, which all of them avoid answering. This somewhat gives the idea that they had indeed stolen more than what was reported and what they eventually had to return, meaning that the grand heist wasn’t probably completely unsuccessful after all.