Heart of Stone review
The issue for Netflix is prioritizing star power over filmmaking. Heart of Stone is an example of the streamer's latest attempt at making a crowd-pleasing romp. Unfortunately, those efforts are thwarted by a severely unoriginal script that borrows from another spy film (Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One), an uncharismatic performance from Gal Gadot, and a lack of thrills.
It's one thing to borrow, it's another to completely parody another film. Look, I don't know when Heart of Stone was written in relation to Dead Reckoning Part One, but without giving it away, the world-ending MacGuffin — called “The Heart” — is very similar in both films. Someone in the film says, “If you own ‘The Heart,' you own the world,” so take that as you will. The issue is that in one case, the film was well-made and features engaging set pieces. In the case of Heart of Stone, its MacGuffin is stuffed into a spy story all too familiar to leave any lasting impact.
For as hard as it tries, Heart of Stone never feels like more than a commercialized attempt at a Mission: Impossible movie. It's almost as if AI conceived the film itself. I guess one distinguishing factor is that they reveal their villain “twist” relatively early on, but that sucks any ounce of intrigue out of the rest of the film (not to say there was much that, anyway).
Even the set pieces feel like cheap knockoffs of Mission: Impossible. At one point, Gadot uses a wingsuit which sounds great on paper. Unfortunately, like many of Netflix's blockbusters, Heart of Stone looks like it was made entirely on a soundstage. Outside of a brief shot outside of the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, most of the film lacks any distinct aesthetic outside of pre-Avengers MCU. If you go back and watch the first Avengers film, scenes on the ship seem too glossy to be real. That glossiness carries over to Heart of Stone which results in a film that's hard to buy into. If you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone to believe in you?
Gal Gadot plays Rachel Stone — a no-nonsense renegade who asks too many questions. She's not a field agent, but that's swiftly overturned after the Heart of Stone's cold open. This is when Stone begins smelling something fishy, as she witnesses one of her cohorts killed. Thus begins her journey of cracking this case open and piecing together this mystery whilst recovering “The Heart.”
It's a shame that for as hard as Hollywood tries to make Gadot a leading woman, she lacks the charisma — at least in her action films (she's fine in Death on the Nile) — to pull it off. Look at what Charlize Theron — who's primarily a dramatic actress — did in Atomic Blonde and compare it to Gadot here (it's night and day). She has jumped from the Fast & Furious franchise to the DCEU and has been spat out of both — before returning to the former — but has never given the type of bada*s performance that she desires. Her performance in another failed Netflix action film, Red Notice, paired her with two of Hollywood's most charismatic stars, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. Even then, despite her character's twist, Gal Gadot was third in the pecking order of that film. She's undoubtedly a star, but I don't know if she's got a future as an action star unless it's within the confines of the uber-safe DCU as Wonder Woman.
The ensemble isn't much help to Gadot, as Jamie Dornan — another actor who's far better served hamming it up in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar than he is playing a stoic spy — sucks the life out of any scene he's in. Even Belfast showed Dornan at his fullest capabilities more than Heart of Stone does. If Kenneth Branagh's Poirot mystery Death on the Nile can work wonders for Gadot, perhaps Dornan's turn in the series (he stars in A Haunting in Venice) can do the same.
Some of the other actors include Gran Turismo star Archie Madekwe and Army of Thieves breakout Matthias Schweighöfer (who's confined in one or two rooms for the entirety of Heart of Stone's runtime). It's Alia Bhatt, who plays a woman named Keya, that shows some conviction in her performance. The character arc itself is painfully monotonous, but at least Bhatt seems to be aware of the film she's in.
Maybe it's a script problem, as the duo of Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder attempt to give Stone the type of quick-moving dialogue that has steeped its way into every franchise. “Only 85%? Hardly seems fair,” Gadot snarkily says at one point in response to the odds of success in a dire situation. This is one of the milder offenses of eye-roll-inducing dialogue in Heart of Stone.
They likely enlisted Schroeder to help bring a feminist touch to the Gadot-led film. However, those efforts are oftentimes hindered by Heart of Stone's insistence on following the genre's rulebook. This is the same woman who co-wrote Hidden Figures and Christopher Robin, yet none of that would be known had I not written it out for you.
Heart of Stone (eventually) ends with a recruiting scene that most spy films, including Mission: Impossible utilize. If this was a traditional theatrical film, it's hard to envision it getting a sequel. Considering the fact that Netflix even entertained the thought of giving The Gray Man — which, like Heart of Stone, unabashedly borrows from a film far better than itself (Heat) — a sequel for more than a few seconds, I wouldn't count it out. Which is great news for Gadot fans and bad news for anyone that has to watch it as a part of their job.
Should you stream Heart of Stone?
You're never going to mistaken Heart of Stone for Mission: Impossible. If you squint, you can maybe see the remnants of a discarded Dead Reckoning Part One script. Netflix is yet to nail the spy genre — at least it's not The Gray Man! — as this Gal Gadot-led film clearly took the time to figure out what it wants to be but never took the time to discover what it is.
Heart of Stone will be released on Netflix on August 11.