This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Over the last few years, Netflix has released The Old Guard, Red Notice and The Grey Man, hoping to create their own Mission Impossible or James Bond-like movie. While some came relatively close to those franchises, others didn't hit the target. The streaming provider is now trying it again with Heart of Stone, the latest movie by director Tom Harper (Wild Rose). While they have a strong cast (or at least on paper), including Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan and Sophie Okonedo, and a story that has great potential, the movie is one of the most generic action films we've seen in a long time.
Gadot plays Rachel Stone, an intelligent operative for the MI6 who's part of Parker's (Dornan) intelligence team. Stone's also secretly a shadow agent for the Charter, a global peacekeeping company using cutting-edge AI technology, to solve conflicts worldwide. Because of the nature of the job, Stone (and you as the audience member) travels all over the world. After seeing this movie, you can cross London, Lisbon, the Alps, Senegal, and more off your world map. And that's all we need to know, or at least according to Harper. We don't need to understand why Noman (Sophie Okonedo) recruited her so many years ago or how the relationship between Stone and Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer), her tech wizard, came to be.
Also, who's the hacker, Keya Dhawan (Alia Bhatt), who's out for the ‘Heart'? No idea. We know Keya wants and gets the Heart, the ‘hotspot' of the Charter's technological supremacy. It falls to Stone to track down Keya and get the Heart back. She faces extreme challenges as she needs to make sure that the Heart doesn't fall into the wrong hands, and she also has to save her MI6 colleagues from inside and outside enemies. Will she be able to keep the world at peace and her friends alive or not?
When reading the storyline, you can already see that screenwriters Greg Rucka (Whiteout) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) took a lot of inspiration from movies such as Jerry Maguire, Mission Impossible and even Rucka's film The Old Guard. They all have a similar vibe, and because of the familiar storyline, this movie needed top-notch cinematography and strong characters to keep the audience engaged, but sadly, that's not the case in this movie. Cinematographer George Steel (Robin Hood) uses a lot of darker colours; therefore, the actors and the fighting aren't lit or framed correctly. Thus, the fights feel very staged, slow and uninteresting. Yes, the dark and gloomy approach worked beautifully for his episodes of The Sandman or Peaky Blinders, but not in this movie.
Heart of Stone might have a star-studded cast, but the film doesn't know how to use them. While Gadot (Wonder Woman) can undoubtedly kick ass and throw punches, we don't believe she could be a real MI6 agent. Her bland facial expression and lifeless dialogue make her character feel hollow. That would be fine if the fights and action scenes showed us her physical prowess, but Gadot's strongness doesn't come through because of those murky lights and quick cuts. Even her equivalents of M and Q need to be more developed. It's clear that Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) hasn't much to work with in this movie, resulting in a flat and stagnant performance, which is an absolute shame because she's such a great actress. While Schweighöfer (Oppenheimer) is doing everything he can to be the perfect technical aid, his acting feels too familiar and stoic.
Heart of Stone is undoubtedly a film with tons of potential, but it wasted almost all of it. The story is a parody of Bond instead of a homage, the strong actors don't get the chance to shine, and the thrilling action scenes that have some impact are in short supply. Yes, Netflix hints that there might be room for more of Stone, but do we need that?
Heart of Stone is now out on Netflix