Heart of Stone Review | A Spy Flick Wild Card

Heart of Stone isn't quite the spy film you were expecting.

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Ever since its announcement almost a year ago, we’ve been rather intrigued by Gal Gadot’s new action-packed, espionage-themed action thriller, Heart of Stone. What we got in its beefy trailer was a spectacle of vehicle chases, aerial acrobatics, intense gunfights, and technologically-geared plot amidst a casino-esque backdrop. Just what does Heart of Stone mean? Does it have anything to do with suits in a deck of cards? Will we be getting some styling and profiling around a blackjack table? Does it allude to one’s belief in the Heart of the Cards?

Well, yes, and funnily enough, maybe. What we do know is that this film takes your typical spy-thriller story beat and adds a modern twist–all while staying gritty and grounded. It takes the usual espionage story and adds a nice layer of relatability by introducing some very familiar technology into the plot. With some solid direction from Tom Harper (MisFits, Peaky Blinders), and a solid screenplay from comic book legend Greg Rucka and screenwriter Allison Schroeder, you get a balls-to-the-wall spy movie with a surprisingly artistic flair.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

One would argue that Heart of Stone may come off as formulaic. Truth be told, it does. This is by no means a bad thing. The usual plot of “be a spy, kick some ass, unravel nefarious world-ending scheme, kick more ass, and finally foil said plan” has been with us for ages, and is very much present in his film. Now, let’s be honest–it always works. Now, the challenge that Heart of Stone faced was how to execute the formula while adding something fresh. This is where the Charter and its nigh sentient technology comes into play.

Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) us a member of the Charter, a peace-keeping organization that deals with varying levels of turmoil across the globe. From terrorist attacks to civil unrest, best believe the Charter is watching. Now, how do they watch, you ask? They have The Heart: a playing card-themed super AI that has access to all the data in the world. So, considering all these elements, what we get is a whirlwind romance involving James Bond, Mission Impossible, Vin Diesel’s XXX, and funnily enough, Black Mirror.

What follows is a very enjoyable tear through Europe and Africa that barely gives you any time to breathe. The movie starts off in a calm enough fashion, but once you’re introduced to all the characters and the premise at hand,  you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t the spy film you were expecting. Especially if you were going in blind.

Stealth is (just) an option

Now, the plot is easy enough to follow. The dialogue is has its funny moments and overall, is easy to pick up. Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, and Alia Bhatt did well as the main cast trifecta–displaying good chemistry in all their scenes. Now, these are all well and good, but the action and cinematography is where this movie shines.

I keep going back to how this is, in essence, a spy movie. I’m just glad that it’s marketed and portrayed as something completely different. I went into the movie without watching the trailer. I did see all the branding, though. I pretty much expected something akin to Casino Royale–which was thematic enough for my guess. While I do enjoy my tense, intricate espionage stories, I do enjoy a good slugfest with spectacular stunt work.

Hitting close to home

Introducing the sentient supercomputer of the Heart was a nice touch. Sure, we a had similar story element in The Minority Report, but it seemed like such a fever dream at the time. When we talk about AI in 2023, it’s as normal as they come.

Having something so small, yet so powerful in the story raised the stakes. The mere idea of the Heart falling into the hands of evildoers makes you think. It’s not as catastrophic as a tactical nuke where everyone just ceases to exist. We’re talking about all the data you’ve ever accumulated, sent out, and shared into cyberspace. It’s not a fear of imminent death, it’s the harrowing idea of getting doxed on a worldwide scale. I will say, there’s a lot more they could have d0ne with this story beat. Sure, there was a bit of obligatory death and destruction, but none of the looming dread one would expect. They didn’t play around with the spy movie formula as much as they could have. Rather, they stuck to it.

It would have been nice to see the repercussions of wielding such a tool with impunity.

Such a badass gal, that Gal

I’ll give credit where credit is due. While this won’t be Oscar bait anytime soon, I do appreciate Gal Gadot’s performance in her first lead starring role since Wonder Woman. She shines brightest when she’s kicking someone’s teeth in, shooting them in the face, or pretty much saving the world. Whether it’s weaponizing a snowmobile or skydiving onto an airship, she’s awesome at it. In terms of the more dramatic moments, or parts where exposition is involved, the movie slows down a bit. Perhaps it just because I’m used to Gal Gadot being associated to action, and I’m simply adjusting to her more serious scenes.

The cast is no slouch, either. It’s safe to say that everyone gave a decent performance without hamming things up. That being said, Jamie Dornan will always be Christian Grey, even with his thick Northern Irish accent. He did a good job at portraying MI6’s strong, not-so-silent field commander Parker alongside Gal’s Rachel Stone. Alia Bhatt’s Keya Dhawan was convincing enough as a young, reluctant cyberhacker who steals the Heart for reasons only she knows. She’s basically a genius, but finds herself falling victim to her own emotions. If she comes across as a bit of a smug brat and a tad whiny, then you know she nailed her character perfectly. Sophie Okonedo, who’s co-starred with Gal in Death on The Nile delivered a great performance as the Charter’s King of Hearts. Personally, they’re the ones who gave the best performances.

We also get a nice couple of cameos from Glenn Close (Guardians of The Galaxy), BD Wong (Mulan), and Mark Ivanir (Schindler’s List) who portrayed the Kings of Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades, respectively.

Final Verdict

If you’re a fan of the classic spy movie that mostly involve glitz, glamour, and palpable moments of tension, you might be a tad disappointed. Heart of Stone moves at breakneck-speed, doesn’t pull its punches, and isn’t afraid to get dirty. It’s farthest from a spy film as a spy film can be, and yet, it’s a bonafide spy film. I know that seemingly makes no sense, and that’s why you need to see it for yourself.

With a great cast, a simple plot reinforced by good writing, and breathtaking cinematography, you’ll have a blast. It’s a fun, action-packed ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In this day and age of streamable movies, Heart of Stone should definitely find its way onto your list.

Heart of Stone is streaming now on Netflix.