One of my favorite things about the formulaic but well-filmed and action-packed popcorn-movie Netflix spy thriller “Heart of Stone” is the way everyone spells things out for us, to the point where we almost expect certain characters to turn to the camera as if to say, You’ve seen this stuff before, but in case your mind is wandering between action sequences, here’s what’s going on right now …
Case in point: Some MI6 operatives are relaxing in a pub after their latest mission. Why don’t we meet the team? Jamie Dornan is Parker, the dashing leader of the team, an experienced field operative; Paul Ready is the warm and wisecracking Max, the driver who speaks with great fondness of his cat; Jing Lusi is Theresa Yang, a skilled sharpshooter, and our star of the movie, Gal Gadot, is Rachel Stone, a tech whiz and the inexperienced rookie of the squad, who is told to “stay in the van” when all hell breaks loose.
As the agents hold their product-placement bottles of PERONI BEER, good ol’ Max once again spools his conspiracy theory about the existence of a mysterious and powerful group known as The Charter, explaining that they’re “ex intelligence operatives answering only to themselves. No national allegiances, no political leanings, putting out fires their governments never allowed them to. That’s the Charter. The most highly trained agents working together to keep peace in a turbulent world.” Thanks Max! That’s extremely helpful.
Without revealing too many details about things that become readily apparent early on in the proceedings anyway, let’s just say Rachel’s particular set of skills extends far beyond her impressive tech talents. She’s not quite Wonder Woman, but based on the parachuting and the hand-to-hand combat abilities and the familiarity with weapons of all kind and her Le Mans-level driving and a willingness to sacrifice everything in the name of the greater cause, she’s in the same league as Ethan Hunt, James Bond and Jason Bourne — and she looks fantastic every step of the way.
Directed with action-movie aplomb by Tom Harper (“The Aeronauts,” “Peaky Blinders”) and featuring great-looking visuals from settings including London; Lisbon, Portugal; South Tyrol, Italy; Morocco, and Reykjavik, Iceland, “Heart of Stone” is clearly intended to jump-start an action franchise for Gadot, and it’s off to a promising start.
After a surprising game-changer of a twist that truly took me by surprise, “Heart of Stone” finds Rachel tasked with the nearly Impossible Mission of protecting a device known as The Heart, which is pretty much like the AI entity tool called “The Entity” in “Rogue Nation” and the doohickey gizmo in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” in that whoever controls The Heart CONTROLS THE WORLD. The Heart, we’re told, is “the closest thing to perfect intelligence.” And then we get another fantastic exposition monologue from a character who makes sure we understand it: “It knows you better than you know yourself. It’s determinism … its modeling is so accurate it can predict the future. The Heart is knowledge and power. It can crash a market or drop a plane out of the sky. … If you own the heart, you own the world.”
As director Tom Harper and cinematographer George Steel fill the screen with stunning drone shots and high-speed chases and we hop from glamorous international cities to the desert to the unforgiving cold to the skies high above, Rachel depends on the tech acumen of “Jack of Hearts” (Matthias Schweighöfer), a constant presence in her earbuds who operates one of the most impressive AI displays in movie history and is always telling Rachel the exact percentage of success in any given mission.
Other key characters include Nomad (Sophie Okonedo), the obligatory Mentor/Maternal Figure in Rachel’s life, and the mysterious and quite dangerous Keya Dhawan (Bollywood star Alia Bhatt), a skilled hacker whose loyalties are in question to the very end. (We also get a fun cameo from a longtime Hollywood icon as one of the, um, charter members of The Charter.)
The Irish actor Jamie Dornan follows his outstanding work in “Belfast” (2021) with another fine performance that further distances him from the “50 Shades” trilogy, and good for him (and for us).
Gal Gadot is not the most expressive of actors, but she’s been fantastic as Wonder Woman and she does solid work here playing the classic rogue spy character who never had anything and never felt like she had a purpose until she started jumping off cliffs and driving at high speeds through narrow alleys and exchanging gunfire with heavily armored henchmen who have no chance against her.
If Rachel Stone ever crosses paths with Ethan Hunt or James Bond or Jason Bourne, they better bring their “A” game.