For something that resembles the recent Prime Video series Citadel so closely, it’s a bit surprising that Netflix’s Heart of Stone isn’t just as terrible. Not that it’s much better — it is, at best, watchable — but the benchmark with these things is so low these days that you can’t help but heave a sigh of relief at just being able to sit through a movie from start to finish without having given up.
A part of the blame for this lies with Gal Gadot, for whom this is a potential new franchise that’ll likely last her a decade after she has hung up Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Her last film for Netflix was the absolutely atrocious Red Notice — another big-budget franchise-starter that, as expected, has evaporated from public consciousness so rapidly that the streamer might as well have deleted it from its database. Unlike that film — and ‘content’ like The Gray Man and Ghosted — Heart of Stone often feels like an actual movie.
It doesn’t, for instance, look like it has been shot inside a warehouse somewhere; or worse, like it was directed over Zoom. There’s a tactility to its action that feels wholly unusual in the streaming age. Of course, there’s plenty of green screen work on display, but to put things in context, Heart of Stone is a globe-trotting spy movie. We’re living in an era where rom-coms set inside apartments can’t be bothered to film on location.
Gadot plays Rachel Stone, who, after spending the first act essentially in disguise as a timid data-cruncher embedded in the MI6, undergoes a Naina Catherine Kapur-ification, and transforms into an elite super spy. Rachel belongs to a secret agency called The Charter, whose job is to maintain global peace through vaguely defined methods. Sometimes, it seems like The Charter is like the Impossible Mission Force from the Mission: Impossible movies (you’d forgotten that’s what IMF stood for, hadn’t you?), and other times, it seems like a less cult-y version of the Kingsmen from Matthew Vaughn’s movies.
Their secret hideout looks like the inside of an old Rajasthani fort repurposed for a Nappa Dori outlet, complete with a pet peacock and everything. But this isn’t the film’s only Indian connection. Heart of Stone also marks the Hollywood debut of Alia Bhatt — easily the most successful (and crucially, most acclaimed) Bollywood star of her generation. And deservedly so. But boy, has she been wasted here. While she obviously knew that she was signing up for a Gal Gadot vehicle, her role here is the equivalent of what Nathalie Emmanuel does in the Fast & Furious movies.
Bhatt plays Keya Dhawan, a 22-year-old hacker from Pune, who locks horns with Rachel in a race to locate a MacGuffin known as ‘The Heart’. Think of it like The Entity from the recent Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One combined with HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Heart has the ability to correctly calculate the exact odds of success following an action, which means that it can practically predict the future. In the wrong hands, The Heart could be a means to world domination.
Co-written by comic book scribe Greg Rucka, based on his own story, Heart of Stone is often too serious for its own good. Even though it has more poor dialogue per screen minute than Bhatt’s own Brahmastra — characters tend to talk in cliches like, ‘You know what you signed up for’, and, ‘Behind you!’ — the movie hurtles through its plot at a breakneck pace, without ever pausing to flash characters out. Even Rachel, the lead character, is given the sorriest excuse of a backstory. You can count on one hand the number of times Gadot cracks a smile, and this is a movie in which she leaps out of an aeroplane and onto a blimp.
There are moments, especially in the first half, when the soundtrack suggests that we’re in for a more lighthearted time. But in the dour second half, it’s almost as if director Tom Harper has forgotten that he was making his characters groove to a Fleetwood Mac number just minutes earlier. Instead, the final act of the movie is accompanied by a wall-to-wall score by Oscar-winner Steven Price, who, like the person who did the music for last year’s Qala, also appears to have enjoyed Jason Hill’s memorable compositions for Mindhunter.
But now that the introductions are over with, you’d hope that the sequel — if one were actually to be made — would devote more time to world-building and characters than on another unoriginal story punctuated by quips and set pieces.
Heart of Stone
Director – Tom Harper
Cast – Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt
Rating – 2/5