"Heart of Stone" stars Gal Gadot in a lackluster Europudding action flick

The talents of Jamie Dornan and Sophie Okonedo are wasted in this messy, boring and misguided spy film

Published August 14, 2023 2:48PM (EDT)

Heart of Stone (Netflix)
Heart of Stone (Netflix)

The latest Netflix action spy thriller, "Heart of Stone" is another bland serving of Europudding — films made with a large, international cast, set in multiple countries. (Greg Rucka who co-wrote "The Old Guard," a prime example of the genre, also co-wrote this film.)

Director Tom Harper's flick opens promisingly with a 20-minute pre-credit sequence in which MI6 agent Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot), and her colleagues Parker (Jamie Dornan), Yang (Jing Lusi) and Bailey (Paul Ready) try to capture Mulvaney (Enzo Cilenti), an arms dealer at a casino perched high in the Italian Alps. Rachel, who is not a field agent, manages to leave the van so she can hack Mulvaney's device and allow Parker and Yang access into a room where people are wagering on body counts during a live wartime operation. It is all moderately engrossing until things go sideways. Parker, thankfully, is able to capture Mulvaney, but as Yang and Bailey give chase, Rachel stays behind. 

Rachel is — surprise! — a double agent working undercover for The Charter, a top-secret organization of ex-intelligence agents. Her colleague, known as Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer, from "Army of the Dead") guides her moves using The Heart, a formidable weapon of knowledge and power. He can use The Heart to see how the future will play out and gives her the odds of her meeting Parker and Mulvaney at the bottom of the mountain. Yang and Bailey won't get there in time in their car. And so, Rachel steals a parachute, does some ziplining and eventually borrows a snow bike to get to the rendezvous spot in time. Is it ridiculous? Of course. Is it original? Not for anyone who has seen a James Bond or "Mission Impossible" film. But the sequence does provide some of the film's only thrills. 

As the plots kicks in, the MI6 team are all targeting Keya Dhawan (Alia Bhatt), who was at the Alpine casino and may be involved in something shady. Rachel secretly visits The Heart Headquarters, where a peacock struts around (why not?!), and her boss, Nomad aka the King of Hearts (Sophie Okonedo), tries to exert some control over her rogue agent. Jack, meanwhile, busies his hands calling up images on his impressive machine. 

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Cut to Portugal where the MI6 crew turn off Parker's Fado music and dance to Lizzo before they are ambushed by The Blond (Jon Kortajarena), an assassin. This is followed by a car chase through the city streets that "might get intense," as Rachel says, as she does some fancy driving. Then a double cross happens, and Rachel learns what some viewers might have suspected — that one of her colleagues is in cahoots with Keya! 

Heart of StoneHeart of Stone (Netflix)

It is at this point, and perhaps even earlier, where "Heart of Stone" starts to suffer from the law of diminishing returns. The film drags with exposition. It bores with Rachel seeking revenge. And Harper asks viewers to hurt themselves suspending their disbelief, most notably in an action sequence where Rachel jumps out of a plane and lands on a zeppelin called The Locker. The Heart, apparently, is kept in a literal cloud. Rachel chases Keya and her colleague along the top of The Locker as it explodes behind her. Even the special effects in this sequence feel unrealistic and unremarkable. The film jumps the shark and drowns in mediocrity.

Harper, who most recently helmed balloon adventure, "The Aeronauts," and the flinty character study "Wild Rose," seems out of his league here. One fight scene is shot in close-up, denying viewers the ability to see what is actually happening between the characters. The film's penchant for rapid editing does not help either. "Heart of Stone" never quite finds its rhythm after the opening sequence. 

The film eventually introduces the executives of The Charter who all have playing card names for no real reason except maybe the screenwriters thought it was cool. (It isn't.) So the King of Diamonds (Glenn Close), The King of Clubs (BD Wong), and the King of Spades (Mark Ivanir) are introduced, and they talk and talk without really saying anything, other than they must protect The Heart from falling into the wrong hands. (Well, duh).  

And if a thriller is only as good as its villain, the "greed" that is motiving Keya and her partner is not sufficiently worrisome to make viewers care if The Heart gets into their wrong hands. That said, Keya is pretty clever, and Bhatt invests her performance with some verve, even making her motivations ambiguous as she bonds with Rachel in a few scenes late in the film.   

Gal Gadot, who produced this mess, tries hard here, and she is best when she is in action or in motion. She does looks stylish in a red dress, and she gets to slink around from time to time, but Gadot never makes Rachel sufficiently engaging or enigmatic. When the MI6 crew wonder how this newbie can "hack, fight and drive," the real question is how did they get into MI6? No wonder two of them end up dead. 

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Jamie Dornan, a long way from "Fifty Shades of Grey," seems underused here, but at least he keeps an air of mystery about him. He even surprises Rachel, sneaking up on her at a swimming pool. Likewise, Sophie Okonedo is given a thankless role; she spends most of her screen time frowning. Audiences will likely share her disposition if they watch beyond the opening credits. 

Netflix proved with "The Old Guard" they can make a decent Europudding action film. "Heart of Stone" is a sloppy, forgettable, and tasteless misfire.


By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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