Directed by Tom Harper | Written by Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder | 122 min | ▲▲△△△ | On Netflix
We’ve been hearing lately about these big-budget action movies showing up on streaming services, pictures so dumbed-down audiences could still spend most of the movie looking at their phones and not miss much. They’re called Second Screen movies, like this one. Whatever the problems with this slab of action entertainment, it’s not nearly as bad as one of those.
What elevates it isn’t its effort to offer up some kind of Mission: Impossible-style international action without any of Christopher McQuarrie’s coherence or, likely, budget. Sludgy CGI and studio subbing for actual locations frequently spoils the few solid actions sequences, along with some truly abysmal dialogue. What does occasionally distinguish it is a female perspective in this kind of genre work, with a few resonating thematic points throughout.
Gal Gadot is Rachel Stone, a secret agent working for a something called The Charter, all while she’s a double-agent embedded in MI:6. The Charter utilizes a supercomputer called The Heart. It calculates probabilities so quickly it can tell Stone the best odds of completing her mission in real time. It’s kind of a cool idea, but on screen it’s a little like watching someone else play a video game.
Naturally, other parties want this powerful tool — but saying who would spoil one solid reveal. I can say that Glenn Close shows up in the year’s most pointless cameo, but to balance that distraction is solid work from Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, and Sophie Okonedo.
Yes, Heart of Stone wishes very dearly it was Mission: Impossible. The trailer even mentions that this picture is from the producers of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One, which, of course, doesn’t mean much since producers often just sign cheques — it’s not like they’re writing, directing , or even offering creative input into the movie, and of the 19 producers listed, none is Tom Cruise.
The scribe who’s co-writing the movie with Hidden Figures’ Allison Schroeder is Greg Rucka, who made his name in thriller comics and novels before going on to write The Old Guard. One of his best spy comics to date is Queen & Country — now in development with Ridley Scott — which managed to capture the entirely unglamorous world of espionage from a feminine perspective. There’s a little of that here — not nearly as interesting but worthwhile, nonetheless.
The subtext working for Heart of Stone is the idea of friendship and loyalty is more important than cause or retribution. Stone is supposed to toe the party line, follow orders and not get emotionally involved — do what the Heart tells her, even if her intuition leads her in a different direction. She learns some hard lessons when she plays against the odds, but the film seems to be saying this kind of risk-taking is a strength, that trusting yourself is the winning hand.
That’s the good part, even as so many of the action set-pieces leave a lot to be desired. It’s not like every action movie needs a Tom Cruise to risk his life for reals, but there’s got to be a happy medium between that and the dull ones and zeroes populating so much of this movie.