Arrhythmia and Blues: Generic ‘Heart of Stone’ rumbles + crumbles…

Pilfering from every action franchise - especially Mission Impossible - Heart of Stone offers only to-the-beat set-pieces...

A MI6 team is on a mission to infiltrate a cartel and nab its crime-boss from his Alpine retreat. However, things don’t go to plan and Rachel Stone, their communications expert and the operative voted most likely to stay in the car, is thrust into the middle of the mission, trying to get the information they need. Their plan is curtailed by an unknown third party and the MI6 team’s lives appear to be in imminent danger.  But what the team don’t know is that Rachel isn’t quite whom she appears to be – as well as being a junior member in this unit, she’s secretly one of the senior members of The Charter, an elite organisation of the world’s best who operative for the greater good but without any national affiliation, guided by the calculations of a super-computer that assesses all their best moves. Now it’s up to Rachel to save her friends but keep her cover intact.

It soon becomes clear that the askew mission was no accident and that someone is specifically seeking more information on The Charter and its assets. Some want its powers for their own and some just want to make it pay for past cold calculations – but either way, Rachel is going to have to make some hard choices about who she trusts and the lines she’ll have to cross to not only defeat her numerous enemies, but just to stay alive…



During a summer that has included Mission Impossible‘s latest impossible mission it might have been tempting to mock Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie’s overt and much-discussed commitment to real, physical set-pieces rather than the easier – if not cheap – route of obligatory CGI.  However, when you watch something like Heart of Stone, the latest uber-actioner from Netflix, the Dead Reckoning reasoning suddenly becomes sound. Though there’s the needed action, some decent hand-to-hand combat and stuntwork involved here, far too often your eyes and brain will inevitably note the post-production VFX – not badly rendered for the most part but so OTT as to not be even slightly original or truly believable – and its bigger-is-better-even-when-it’s-absurd attitude consistently lifts you out of the moment.

Netflix have been steadily upping their game over the last few years with original, top-budgeted, action-feature offerings. There’s been Bright with Will Smith, the Extraction movies (with Chris Hemsworth), Project Power (with Jamie Foxx), Red Notice (also starring Gadot, along with Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds), Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling’s appeared as espionage rivals in The Gray Man, and Charlize Theron headed up The Old Guard (soon to get a sequel). There’s no denying their star-power and marketing, but they’ve been strangely hit and miss results, some looking unbeatable on paper but superficial on screen, often coasting on genre-staples with distinctly beer-and-pizza level plots, the streaming equivalent of an old-fashioned Summer B-Lister with A-List stars attached. On a base level, Heart of Stone is arguably a competent action outing but it so diligently rotates through a bullet-points list of genre ingredients so familiar, that it feels as if AI technology has already terminated the writing department and where characters take it in turn to carry the idiot-box in their search for a this-could-change-everything maguffin.

It’s amazing just how much Heart of Stone directly pilfers from Mission Impossible beyond the generalistic. That maguffin is a super-secret AI computer that’s so powerful that it cannot only access and control every system on the planet but can also accurately predict actions and dictate the best strategies (essentially the exact-same device that the MI: Dead Reckoning cast were  also recently looking for this year and also somewhat the centre-piece of tv’s more subtle Person of Interest). It’s the kind of thing that – repeat after me – must absolutely not-fall-into-the-wrong-hands otherwise the world is doomed and someone will needlessly kill off Glenn Close (tm). The car chase through Lisbon emulates the recent IMF car-chase through Rome and Rachel’s parachute jump is more kinetic than Ethan’s much touted freefall but eventually out-stays its welcome. Risking spoilers for both this and the movie franchise, halfway through the film we also have our hero’s well-trained, capable and blueprinted-to-be-likeable  team clinically killed off in sudden, brutal fashion, essentially giving Gadot’s Rachel Stone the disavowed role Cruise had in MI1.

 Heart of Stone has an undeniable momentum that never lets up and will certainly pass the time, but if we’re looking for something substantial to roar rather than smoulder, we’re still waiting for Gadot… 

International organisations that operate in secret above the alphabet agencies and normal law-enforcement are nothing new to cinema and television, but in recent times they’ve certainly being going hard and fast against their ‘be inconspicuous’ mandate. The flagship IMF, still impossibly led by Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt reigns supreme, but in the last few months alone we’ve also seen a tv version of True Lies and the multi-million dollar Citadel which was supposed to launch an internationally-integrated web of shows and films but which has yet to garner ratings suitable for that investment.

On its own merits? Gal Gadot as Rachel (codenamed as Nine of Hearts – because, well – of course – all the Charter agents have playing cards to match their poker faces) is fine, largely because this is a production – built unapologetically around her – that entirely plays to her specific strengths. Wonder Woman showcased a strong physical presence as a former dancer and the sort of charisma that will turn heads at gala events and even when Heart of Stone and its marketing imagery try to make Gadot look superficially ruffled and scuffed, she still gracefully ducks and dives.  She can absolutely handle fight-scenes and high society with equal poise and confidence, so her previous outings allow her to navigate this role with relative ease. But she’s also the kind of performer where – Wonder Woman aside – you remember her participation rather than her depth of character. The Heart of Stone premise is that she’s one of the world’s best-trained spies but hiding in the plain-sight operations of a team of MI6 agents. She’s the smart operative usually left in the car by her more kinetic colleagues who ironically mutter about ‘The Charter’, a kind of movie-specific super-secret organisation that’s so super-secret everyone talks about it in hushed tones but assumes it’s an urban-myth… and, hilariously, without ever clocking the fact they have one of them on their own team. (Though, for the record, in a little Clark Kent/ Superman fashion, you can’t help thinking that if things hadn’t gone so askew for them in this story, someone, somewhere sooner or later would have started noticing how she’s conveniently gone whenever a saviour shows up. Hmmmmm). As the movie progresses, her abilities become almost super-human and the situations make James Bond look positively sedate. Early on she’s seen skipping down a night shrouded mountain-side with a parachute (an illuminated parachute which looks great and yet surely takes away the intended element of surprise?), miraculously avoiding tree branches and rocks. She then swaps the chute for a snow-speeder and before long she’s globe-trotting across Europe, racing cars through side-streets, cutting tracking-chips from her own body and jumping off exploding airships. Huzzah for her, but more actual kudos to the VFX department.

Fifty Shades of Gray and Belfast‘s Jamie Dornan continues to look for something to relaunch the next part of his career, but this gives him a lot to do without any truly memorable moments. His ‘Parker’ initially appears to be the Steve Trevor of the situation (the erstwhile agent who keeps getting saved by his colleague-with-a-secret) though the film pivots halfway through to give him a far more confrontational role that showcases his physical strengths but never requires him to do more grumble, complain and bark orders… though occasionally his complaints about the Charter’s super-computer and the cold way it pragmatically assess odds that can still doom individuals, ring truer than intended.

Heart of Stone feels like it wants to kickstart another franchise and certainly invests the money to do so, but not the additional heart or nervous system to propel it further. However, from its refrigerator-word-magnet monikored title to its closing titles, it’s a by-the-numbers generic crowd-pleaser that dutifully delivers the basics yet ultimately feels like a placeholder for Gadot while her Wonder Woman duties are reassessed (though this week has seen more fan consternation as Gadot seemed to confirm her intention to eventually reprise the Amazonian role and then Warners/James Gunn absolutely denying there had been any such talk or discussion of such).

Heart of Stone has an undeniable momentum that never lets up and will certainly pass the time, but if we’re looking for something substantial to roar rather than smoulder, we’re still waiting for Gadot…

'Heart of Stone'  (Netflix film review)
'Heart of Stone' (Netflix film review)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Production Design / VFX