Gal Gadot steps into the world of espionage in Tom Harper’s “Heart of Stone,” which aims to be the beginning of a spy series akin to “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond. However, the movie feels like an attempt to engineer virality, piecing together elements from superior films without injecting any fresh ideas. It’s filled with cliché characters and executed with a lack of creativity.
In the film, Gadot portrays Rachel Stone, an operative of a clandestine organization known as the Charter, who is masquerading as a rookie MI6 tech agent. Her mission whisks her—and us—around the world, from the snowy Alps to bustling London, then on to Lisbon, Senegal, and finally, Iceland. Despite these exotic locales, the film somehow manages to depict them in the dullest manner imaginable.
Sophie Okonedo takes on the role of Nomad, Rachel’s leader who brought her into the fold at the tender age of 20. The backstory? That remains a mystery! We’re left wondering whether Rachel had any prior training or if she was molded by the Charter post-recruitment. “Heart of Stone” seems indifferent to these details.
Matthias Schweighöfer plays the character “Jack of Hearts,” Rachel’s technological sidekick, who is tethered to a supercomputer called The Heart. This device enables him to access surveillance information to support Rachel’s endeavors. He interacts with the data through hand gestures, a concept that was quite impressive when we saw it in “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise. In this film, however, it comes across as an uninspired imitation.
The Charter’s purpose gets repeated often, with characters delivering their lines heavy on explanations. Most of the dialogue is either too explanatory, filled with forced jokes, or dramatic speeches. Despite the subpar script, actors Paul Ready and Jing Lusi, who play Stone’s teammates, Bailey and Yang, manage to impress but sadly don’t get enough time on screen to develop their characters fully.
Jamie Dornan portrays teammate Parker in a subdued manner, reminiscent of Colin Farrell’s role in “Daredevil,” which doesn’t quite fit his character’s potential intensity. Alia Bhatt, as the hacker Keya, struggles to break free from the stereotypical traits assigned to her role. In contrast, Jon Kortajarena fully embraces his role as the villain with his flashy style and understands exactly what the part demands.
It’s particularly surprising given that co-screenwriter Greg Rucka, who adapted his own graphic novel “The Old Guard” into a screenplay, previously created a group dynamic with depth and authenticity. That film benefitted greatly from director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who consistently demonstrates skill in directing actors and crafting action scenes.
Unfortunately, Tom Harper doesn’t seem to match those abilities, often misframing or poorly lighting his actors, leading to unclear and disjointed fight scenes. The rest of the action feels derivative, borrowing elements from other successful films. The opening scene in the Alps echoes various Bond movies, while some of the aerial stunts seem like low-budget takes on “Mission Impossible.” There’s even a scene that seems to mimic the climax of “The Rocketeer,” complete with CGI fire that looks less convincing than what was seen in that classic—and far more entertaining—1991 movie.
The film’s uninspired direction doesn’t do Gal Gadot any favors. While she can deliver the action, her range of emotion doesn’t extend past a single, unvarying expression. This might have been less noticeable if the action scenes showcased her athletic abilities better. However, Tom Harper’s erratic camera work and dim lighting don’t do justice to Gadot’s star quality.
On a thematic level, the movie misses the mark entirely. It tosses around big ideas like “determinism” without delving into how these concepts influence the characters’ decisions or the implications of The Heart’s algorithm, which is designed to “maximize lives saved.” Rachel Stone engages in deep discussions with the antagonists about the morality of wielding such power, yet she never challenges the Charter’s own methods or the ethical concerns surrounding mass surveillance.
When confronted with troubling revelations about the Charter’s history, both Stone and the narrative quickly sidestep any serious contemplation of the organization’s flaws. The oversimplified script pins any wrongdoing on an individual error rather than systemic issues within the institution itself.
In the end, “Heart of Stone” tidies up its moral quandaries by eliminating several characters and setting Stone up with a new team, ready for future installments. In this era of intellectual properties, sequels, and franchises, it seems we’ve been given a film that’s more interested in launching a new series led by a female protagonist than in telling a compelling story, all while subtly endorsing a surveillance state.
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