Principal Cast : Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Sophie Okonedo, Jing Lusi, Paul Ready, Jon Kortajarena, Archie Madekwe, Matthias Schweighofer, BD Wong, Glenn Close, Mark Ivanir.
Synopsis: An intelligence operative for a shadowy global peacekeeping agency races to stop a hacker from stealing its most valuable and dangerous weapon.
Netflix’ big-budget action films seem to be as inconsequential as ice for eskimo, landing without fanfare (or any real marketing at all) and remaining in the public consciousness just long enough to hit the top of the streamers’ popular content before vacating just as quickly once the next content drop comes along. Heart of Stone, a variously stupid and entertaining action entry starring Gal Gadot, is undoubtedly going to have the cultural impact of a ream of A4 paper, it’s so blandly forgettable I don’t even remember the main character’s name even through it’s in the title. This kind of sprawling, epic action film would have been a moderate hit in cinemas had Netflix decided to spend some of their bottomless pit of cash on distribution, but alas; in a world of The Meg 2 and the Barbie movie I guess there’s no room for generic genre entries in the multiplex. Sigh.
Gadot plays superspy Rachel Stone (see, it’s in the title, isn’t it clever?) who is working undercover inside an MI6 group to take down an arms dealer in the Austrian Alps, a mission that ultimately fails as the target suicides with a cyanide capsule. During this opening sequence it’s revealed Stone is a double agent, working for an even secret-er secret organisation of operatives known as The Charter, a mysterious organisation utilizing quantum computer power (known as the Heart) to infiltrate global communications and predict events before they occur. Stone’s operational status is revoked following the death of her MI6 team and the discovery of a separate mission by villains intent on capturing the Heart for their own nefarious purposes.
Heart of Stone is a vastly generic action thriller similar to Netflix’ other big-budget damp squibs The Grey Man or Red Notice (funnily enough, Gadot headlined the latter as well), providing yet more indifferent antics for Hollywood’s big name A-list to dabble in whilst waiting for either Marvel, DC or Star Wars to come calling. With tropes and cliches you’ve seen in a hundred other films, and usually better in those as well, Heart of Stone won’t revolutionise the genre or reinvent the cinematic wheel as much as it offers distinctly predictable junk-food moviemaking that’s as emotionally lasting as a Big Mac is nutritious. Directed by Tom Harper, better known for his work on the rather excellent The Aeronauts (and the rather inauspicious Woman in Black sequel), Heart of Stone relies heavily on green-screen for much its high-falutin’ stunts, making great use of its stunning location photography (Iceland seems to have become the tax haven Hollywood go to regularly for films, it appears) and production design with decent cinematography (kudos to George Steel), if only the writing and acting was marginally better.
Gadot is an undeniable beauty, but as an actress she’s pretty wooden, and this film exacerbates this fact by giving her some truly risible dialogue to spout as her character cavorts with violence and destruction in a variety of surprisingly laughable sequences. Gadot’s conviction to the role is evident, but she can’t act – once again, her best role continues to be Wonder Woman – and although Harper and his team cast solid supporting talent around her, for a leading woman to be so clunky really does take away from the film’s potential. Jamie Dornan, Paul Ready and Jing Lusi make for enjoyable MI6 agents, Sophie Okonedo is wasted as the film’s version of M, here entitled Nomad for no discernible reason, and Matthias Schweighofer proves he should be a far bigger star in America than he currently is. Alia Bhatt, as the duplicitous Keya, transitions from mysterious figure of concern to sympathetic, misunderstood ingenue in one of the film’s worst character twists, even through Bhatt herself gives a great performance.
Sadly, though the screenplay kneecaps everything happening on screen with lamentable dialogue and risible plot developments. Comic book scribe Greg Rucka and Hidden Figures co-writer Alison Schroeder lumber through a contortive plot with sledgehammer subtlety and even less conviction, aiming their MacGuffin bazooka at the audience and firing away repeatedly – it’s obvious they’ve seen True Lies and the Jason Bourne franchise many, many times and figured if they just change the names and locations the audience won’t cotton on to just how generic it all is? Yikes. If you’re playing action film bingo you’ll run out of hits in the first twenty minutes.
This is comfort food for movie junkies. It’s predictable, lazy, generic storytelling led by a beautiful but talentless actress surrounded by people who are inordinately better than this material allows. Tom Harper’s direction is competent but you can tell directing large scale action isn’t his thing, with most of the “thrills” feeling more by-the-numbers and poorly paced than some of his contemporaries are able to muster. If they’re hoping this is the start of a franchise Netflix are in for a rude shock. Heart of Stone is routine disappointment from a streaming service seemingly intent on never delivering on their capabilities.