Rating: 3/5 Quints
Gal Gadot's last action venture, Red Notice, left much to desire. These desires find their rightful place in her latest, Heart of Stone.
The first ragtag crew (admittedly they're expertly trained MI6 agents) we meet consists of the communications & transport guy Bailey (Paul Ready), the tech genius Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) and suave field agents Yang (Jing Lusi) and Parker (Jamie Dornan).
They're all patiently perched around a gambling event happening in a casino at the Italian Alps. The stakes are extremely high and so is the probability of something going wrong. And goes wrong it does.
In the chaos that ensues, new characters are introduced and secrets are unveiled, even if just for the audience. 'Heart of Stone' uses dramatic and situational irony to create a rather gripping thriller.
It's unfortunate that Mission Impossible 7's release perhaps impacts a bit of the film's novelty. In MI7, the enemy and the prize are the same, an all-knowing AI called 'The Entity'. Control over the Entity means control over the entire world.
In Heart of Stone, a similar object is the 'Heart'. A tech object so advanced that it can almost predict the future. The object lies with the Charter, a group that claims to harness its power to do good in the world.
The way the Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer) controls the technology, swiping in thin air to conjure addresses and possibilities of success is still pretty stunning to watch.
Gadot is meant to be at the helm of this franchise and she carries that weight off well. The action sequences are well choreographed and equally well-performed. As an agent who has to choose between the mission and her own humanity, she is effective.
And it doesn't hurt that she has great acting chemistry with Dornan and a comfortable camaraderie with Lusi and Ready.
Alia Bhatt is introduced pretty early on as Keya, an Indian tech prodigy, who is on a revenge mission of her own. This 22-year-old soon begins to question if she has to sacrifice her morality for this quest.
Bhatt does a commendable job to be convincing of her motivations but some of her comic timing is off. It isn't her best outing but she still captures the moral ambiguity and the feeling of being akin to a fish out of water.
Credits to writers Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder for creating spies who don't have to be cold-hearted in their pursuits and can instead find a balance between the stoicism expected of them and their humanity.
Sophie Okonedo as Nomad, essentially the kingpin of the chapter of the Charter we see first (aka The King of Hearts), provides a welcome relief. Her character is no nonsense in the face of danger and her brevity works well in a film that is otherwise firing at a 100.
Heart of Stone is making as much of a point about the overreliance on technology as it is about seeing humane acts as inherently weak.
This is evident in the little details – the agents are literally governed by a 'Heart' (and not well) and at one point, people have to rely on a landline phone in this high-tech world.
The threat of the world being destroyed has been a staple of action and thriller films for so long that it has lost some of its terrifying quality. The lead saves the day, that is known.
But Heart of Stone doesn't leave much space to catch a breath for you to point this out while you're watching it. For the steaming place, an action film is tough to keep afloat, especially since a massively mounted show Citadel didn't make the waves it expected.
Here, director Tom Harper and cinematographer George Steel imbibe the film with a charm that has been missing from Netflix's recent capers.
There is a self-assuredness to Heart of Stone that works, despite a weak script. The backstory granted to one of the main villains is brutally obvious and explored at too fast a pace to actually buy into as an emotional hook.
The story is mostly predictable and is derivative. There are too many similarities to other films within the genre, including the globe-trotting Mission Impossible franchise.
The dialogues, too, are too juvenile in places to actually add to the stakes in the film. What is supposed to be humorous feels out of place. What is supposed to feel serious feels like an afterthought.
It's perhaps this feeling that makes Heart of Stone, otherwise an incredibly fun film, rather forgettable.