Heart of Stone movie review: Netflix introduces a fresh franchise with leads Gal Gadot and Alia Bhatt; while it avoids the lows of ‘Red Notice’ and ‘The Gray Man,‘ soaring much higher isn’t its achievement either.
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Heart of Stone Movie Review
It’s quite surprising that the heart of Netflix’s Stone isn’t as dreadful as one might expect, considering it falls in the same ballpark as the recent Prime Video series Citadel. It’s not that it’s much better – it’s good, definitely watchable – but with the benchmark being so low these days, you can take a sigh of relief for being able to watch a film from start to finish without feeling defeated.
To some extent, the blame for this lies on Gal Gadot, for whom this is a potential new franchise, one that might run until a decade after Wonder Woman put her truth to rest. Her last film for Netflix was the outright disaster Red Notice – another big-budget franchise-starter, which, as per expectations, has vanished from public consciousness so swiftly that the streamer has likely erased it from their database as well. In contrast to that film – and ‘substance’ like The Gray Man and Ghosted – Heart of Stone often feels like an actual movie.
For instance, it doesn’t appear to have been shot in a warehouse; or worse, directed through Zoom. There’s a sophistication in its action that feels entirely unusual in the streaming era. Certainly, the green-screen work does a lot of the heavy lifting in presentation, but with things in context, Heart of Stone is a globe-trotting espionage film. We’re living in an age where established rom-coms set inside apartments can’t even be entertained for location filming.
Gadot has embodied the role of Rachel Stone, who after a mandatory initial act of timid data-cruncher in MI6, transitions from Naina Catherine Kapur-ish to a distinct superspy. Rachel is affiliated with an agency known as ‘The Charter,’ whose job is to maintain global peace through vaguely defined means. At times, Charter Mission: Impossible films are like the Impossible Mission Force (you’d have forgotten IMF was the IMF, right?), and at others, it’s reminiscent of Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman movies.
Her Charter base is an old Rajasthani fort that appears to have been retrofitted for a Nappa Dori outlet, complete with a pet peacock and everything. But this film’s sole Indian connection isn’t just that. Heart of Stone is also Hollywood’s introduction to Alia Bhatt – who is Bollywood’s most successful (and importantly, most celebrated) star of her generation. And it’s fitting. But boy, has she been wasted here. While she clearly knew she was signing up to Gadot’s vehicle, her role is on par with Nathalie Emmanuel’s in Fast and Furious films, delivering lines in weathered, clichéd tones, like ‘You know who you signed up for,’ and, ‘Behind you!’
Bhatt plays Kaya Dhwani, a 22-year-old hacker from Pune who finds herself competing with Rachel, known as ‘The Heart,’ in the race to find a famous MacGuffin named MacGiffin. Consider her the unit of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One that’s combined with 2001’s HAL 9000: A Space Odyssey. The ability to accurately assess the likely outcomes of an action’s success in one’s heart, after a job well done, is a power that can practically predict the future. In the wrong hands, a heart could be a tool of world domination.
Co-written by comic book author Greg Rucka, who bases it on his own story, Heart of Stone often takes itself rather seriously for its own good. While it has more laughably bad dialogue than Gadot’s own bra-lassing moments per screen minute – characters talk in worn-out lines like, ‘You know who you signed up for,’ and, ‘Behind you!’ – the film progressively moves ahead with a dangerous pace through its narrative means, never pausing to get its characters out. So much so that even the lead character Rachel is given the saddest excuse of a backstory from the previous story. You could count how many times Gadot smiles in one hand, and it’s a film in which she jumps from an airplane to a blimp.
There are moments, especially in the first half, when it becomes clear from the soundtrack that we’re in lighter territory. But during the second half, it’s almost as if director Tom Harper forgot he was preparing his characters to pivot to Fleetwood Mac numbers just minutes ago. Instead, the film’s final act comes with an Oscar-winning score by Steven Price, who, like the person who supplied music for last year’s Parasite, also seems to enjoy the creations of Mindhunter’s Jason Hill, being almost as pleasant as Black’s ‘Mind Heist.’
But now that the introduction is over, you’ll hope that the next episode – if there was one actually made – would invest more time in world-building and characters rather than an unrealistic story riddled with jokes and set pieces.
Heart of Stone
Director – Tom Harper
Cast – Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan,
Alia Bhatt Rating – 2/5