Synopsis: An intelligence operative for a shadowy global peacekeeping agency races to stop a hacker from stealing its most valuable and dangerous weapon.
Stars: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Sophie Okonedo, Matthias Schweighöfer, Jing Lusi, Paul Ready, Archie Madekwe, Jon Kortajarena
Director: Tom Harper
Running Length: 122 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: In the middle of the Barbenheimer mania, I went with friends to see Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One for a second time to see if that Tom Cruise big-screen blockbuster was as crazy action-packed as I remembered. The first time was so enjoyably overwhelming that it became exhausting…so much so that I felt I needed to take it all in again, if only for that car chase scene alone. That second viewing solidified how much I like catching these large-scale, full-throttle films on the most giant screen possible.
While that film is strangely struggling to keep up with the movies about a doll and the creation of the atomic bomb (who would have thunk?), audiences wanting to stay in and stay cool have another option to explore from the comfort of their homes. And it just so happens that it comes from the same production company that has handled multiple Mission: Impossible entries. Although I would have loved to see Heart of Stone at the cinema (more than any recent Netflix original, it should have had a theatrical release), I was slightly surprised at how slick and entertaining this potential franchise kick-off was. If this is the start of something new for Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), then the star has found a worthwhile new character to lay claim to.
Before its title sequence (have I mentioned how much I l-o-v-e a title sequence?), an extended prologue introduces us to MI:6 agent Rachel Stone (Gadot), a tech wiz teamed up with Bailey (Paul Ready), Yang (Jing Lusi, Crazy Rich Asians), and Parker (Jamie Dornan, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) on an assignment high up in the Alps. When their intended target gives them the slip, and they realize they’ve fallen into a trap set by mystery woman Keya (Alia Bhatt), the team scrambles to secure their asset before he makes it down the slope. It’s an energetic way to open the film, and director Tom Harper (Wild Rose) demonstrates early on his ability to handle large-scale action sequences and blend them with doses of humor that don’t get moldy quickly.
Of course, there’s more to Rachel than a harmless tech wiz, but I’ll let the twists in the screenplay from Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder (Frozen II) reveal themselves while you watch. It’s more fun that way because some of the curveballs thrown are nicely pitched and timed perfectly to catch you off guard. In addition to the MI:6 crew, a faction of agents known as The Charter are finding ways into their version of the peacekeeping business via The Heart. A new technology that connects all of the informational/media sources around the world, it can find anyone and even make future predictions on potential outcomes in brawls. When Keya sets her sights on stealing The Heart, Rachel must protect and/or retrieve it before it falls into the wrong hands and is used against the people attempting to keep order.
One of those movies that is in a constant state of motion, Heart of Stone’s biggest asset is Gadot, who always feels like an excellent example of leading with authority. Yes, Gadot has been in a stinker or two (how did Red Notice happen? And how is it getting a sequel?), but she often has an instinct for what projects will be a good fit, and Rachel Stone is a character that is tailor-made for what she can bring to the table. It shows off her dramatic side but highlights her physicality at the same time. The action sequences may rely on stunt doubles (her double wears a shorter and stringier wig), but she’s incredibly active in many of the fight spectacles. And it’s futile to deny her screen charisma.
Working with his longtime cinematographer George Steele (The Last Letter From Your Lover), Harper might not have the budget to stage Tom Cruise-level stunts, but he does fit in several impressively filmed scenes involving a car chase (this is the year of off-the-wall car chases!), two tense passages involving a parachute, motorcycle pursuits, and more than a few hand-to-hand combats and shootouts to keep you alert. Most of the combatants are the nameless/faceless masses that filter through these action thrillers, but everyone gets their turn in the ring at some point. Kudos to Gadot’s opening team (Ready, Lusi, and Dornan) for participating in the fun car chase scene through Lisbon!
Aside from Gadot, Dornan (Belfast) knows the assignment and isn’t afraid to go for extra credit, and Bhatt (RRR) keeps her cards close to her chest for as long as she can, it creates the appropriate amount of mystery and the tiniest dash of frustration we should feel for her character. How can I forget to mention the likes of Sophie Okonedo (Catherine Called Birdy) & Matthias Schweighöfer (Army of the Dead) as members of The Charter who keep their eye on Rachel throughout? Keep your eyes peeled for a cameo that almost made me do a spit-take. The actor’s costume and wig are the campiest in the whole movie (two words: Prada linebacker), but their brief presence is eternally welcome.
This is enormous fun, and I appreciated that it doesn’t have a throwaway charm to give off the impression you have to check your brain at the door to get something out of it. I wouldn’t even say you have to compromise with your own standards to like Heart of Stone, either. Maybe I had set my bar too low initially, so all I could do was be impressed. Then again, that doesn’t give the filmmakers and writers enough credit for crafting a spy thriller that consistently delivers surprises while promising the possibility of more to come.