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‘Heart of Stone’ review: Another disposable Netflix action film

Alia Bhatt's Hollywood debut is scuttled by generic writing and an inadequate lead turn by Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot in 'Heart of Stone'. Image via AP
Gal Gadot in 'Heart of Stone'. Image via AP

Of all the flotsam cluttering up the modern movie landscape—Star Wars regurgitations, DC conflagrations, Marvel being oh-so-diverse—the American Netflix actioner is the most disposable. Who would care, really, if 6 Underground, Extraction and its sequel, Red Notice and The Gray Man were to disappear overnight from the platform? These films range from techno-thrillers to adventure comedies to brutal extended set piece workouts. Yet they all have a fatal dullness, with their gargantuan sequences that go on for 10, 15 minutes without respite or clarity or joy. The writing is mostly variations on ‘your cover is blown’ and ‘it’s just a surface wound’. The assorted spies and special ops and assassins are so interchangeable it’s surprising Netflix hasn’t tried to weave them into a super-soldier-verse.

Adding another 123 minutes to the heap is Tom Harper's Heart of Stone. Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) must find a way to stop an all-powerful AI system dubbed the Heart (get it?) from falling into the wrong hands. Her MI6 teammates, Theresa (Jing Lusi), Max (Paul Ready) and Parker (Jamie Dornan), wouldn’t know a ridiculously competent agent if she was sitting with them in the van, pretending to be a shy newbie. The film starts off with one of those long, long action sequences, with the three agents pursuing a target across the snowy Alps, unaware that Stone is also chasing him via parachute, zipline and bike—and doing a better job.

Also read: ‘Gadar 2’ review: Hateful and laughable

After the chase, the quartet unwind in a café, eat fries and complain about paperwork, a rather endearing scene. Max brings up a shadowy organization called the Charter, who take out the same sort of dangerous targets they do, but with apparently more success. His colleagues groan and tease him, but in this moment we know who Stone really works for. During the earlier chase, Stone was guided by a man in front of a bank of three-dimensional images, feeding her information about the landscape, enemy movements, potential dangers. This is the Heart, a weapon so sophisticated it can only be defeated by the most formidable adversary imaginable: a lone hacker from Pune.

Those excited about Alia Bhatt’s Hollywood debut might be disappointed to learn that she only joins the film properly after a significant amount of time has elapsed. She plays Keya, the hacker who’s helping [redacted] take control of the Heart. There’s a passage where she and Stone are stranded in a desert, a standard getting-to-know-you-while-trying-to-stay-alive scenario, which American films used to be able to do in their sleep. This one is terribly awkward, the pressure of creating chemistry with Gal Gadot defeating the actor who managed to make even Arjun Kapoor seem charming. 

The writing is tin-earned, but Gadot—an elegant action star and a cautious actor—makes it worse. “Are you trying to kill us?” Parker asks as Stone drives like a maniac, pursued by assorted killers. “Pretty much the opposite, actually” is her reply—terrible line, no doubt, but why say it with a straight face, enunciating every syllable? Late in the film, Stone says, “The problem with… you is that your power is only ever based on threats and violence.” Gadot does a little sniff and laugh before saying this, a depressingly literal interpretation of what the subtitles describe as ‘[scoffs]’.

There’s one performance with charm and lightness: Matthias Schweighöfer as ‘Jack of Hearts’, Q to Gadot’s Bond, but a joyful sprite instead of a morose geek. There’s a brief, beautiful scene where he’s surrounded by images supplied by the Heart, whisking them here and there, as Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac plays. As for Bhatt, she deserves better. Dress it up all you want, the Indian ends up as tech support. 

Also read: The Gray Man review: Relentless action, no charm

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