Movie audiences should start drastically lowering expectations to fully enjoy the latest spy thrillers being churned out by studios. Alas, audiences just keep setting themselves up to fail miserably in this regard.
Heart of Stone, directed by Tom Harper and produced by Skydance Media, tries its best to not fall prey to avoid becoming another low quality spy thriller, but it ultimately can’t measure up to the standards set by films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The film stars the gorgeous Gal Gadot, who seems typecast and subsequently wasted in this movie. Also starring in the film were Jamie Dornan, Sophie Okonedo, Alia Bhatt, Paul Ready and Jing Lusi, of which the latter two feel criminally underused. The movie is about an organization called the Charter, the most secret of all secret-agent organizations, that defends the world from threats no government knows or responds to, like dealing with hackers targeting the North American power grid.
Heart of Stone starts off very Mission Impossible-esque — MI6 agents Rachel Stone (Gadot), Parker (Dornan), Bailey (Ready) and Yang (Lusi) are on a mission to nab a dangerous weapons dealer. But through the course of the mission it’s revealed that Rachel isn’t just an ordinary tech agent — she’s an double agent in MI6 who actually works for the Charter, which possesses the Heart, an AI capable of processing trillions of terabytes of data at the same time.
However, MI6 fails to catch the weapons dealer due to the interference of Keya Dhawan, a 22-year old hacker extraordinaire with a completely whitewashed name for an Indian woman. And so the hunt begins for Dhawanl, digging up her past and trying to predict her course of action with the Heart, which also predicts success rates of missions and their outcomes. With its help, the group tracks her to Lisbon. After an attack by mercenaries, the big twist is revealed — Parker orchestrated the entire ordeal to find out who the Charter agent is among the team.
I must confess — I was actually taken aback at this point. Though his character is a little cliché, I do appreciate Dornan’s acting prowess. He was probably the character I most enjoyed. While Gadot is suave and sleek, Dornan stole the show with his unapologetic villainy. Like many villains, Parker believes he’s doing the world a favor, ridding it of the “higher ups” that don’t treat their soldiers like humans only to hypocritically violate his own preachings by killing both Bailey and Yang (cue backstory that shows his whole team being wiped out for the “greater good”). Apparently, the rules don’t apply to him. Rachel also says something to this effect in the climax: “You don’t want to change anything. You just want to be the one in charge”. His story is one of countless good-agent-turns-evil-agent arcs, with nothing new to explain his abrupt switch to the dark side except a three minute conversation about how he was left for dead by the Charter after a fiasco. Despite being a soldier, Parker does not understand the concept of unintended collateral damage.
While 40% of the movie is Gadot talking to her handler Nomad (Okonedo), a.k.a. King of Hearts, giving pep talks to Keya and getting injured, the other 60% is pure action embodied in scenes where, for instance, she jumps off a military plane in a squirrel suit onto a satellite (which was kind of cool but also just too much for even Gadot to stylishly pull off). While I understand that this is what thrillers have been and are expected to be, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it. It felt like a movie in a long line of movies that run on the same formula, and there was nothing new to it.
That being said, I will acknowledge and appreciate the performances that stood out to me as well as the ones I think should’ve been explored further — especially that of Paul Ready’s Bailey and Jing Lusi’s Yang. I felt they could’ve deepened the film’s emotional dimension. Even though it would still be Gadot’s movie, fleshing out their characters would have certainly improved the experience.
In a (supposed) nod to diversity, the makers cast an Israeli woman as the lead, and an Indian woman as the antagonist. However, neither of their identities seem to have much of an impact on the movie. The creators tried to diversify the faces seen on TV, yes, but in following the procedure of color-blind casting they’ve also limited the impact that race and identity could’ve had — Keya’s whole motive is to get revenge for her parents dying in a medical trial, but what does that mean for a girl from India? What taunts and miseries did she have to face growing up? I think the plot would’ve only benefited from exploring Keya, Rachel and Parker’s stories more, rather than always focusing on the present.
In the end, Heart of Stone tries to be the new Mission Impossible but fails to do so convincingly. I would suggest putting it on if you’re in the mood for some action, but it’s okay not to be glued to your seat either.
Heart of Stone is currently streaming on Netflix.