Heart Of Stone (2023)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/9/23
Writer: Greg Rucka
Cast: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Jing Lusi, cameo by Glenn Close

An all-powerful AI known as "The Heart" is at the center of a super secret intelligence agency called The Charter. If it were to fall into the wrong hands, the world would be at their mercy, which is why the bad guys want it so badly. Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) is a Charter agent embedded in MI6 who seeks revenge after being compromised during a mission. She's a one-woman army against a super hacker (Alia Bhatt) and a seemingly endless stream of mercenaries, but they don't stand a chance against her relentless drive and superior skills.

Unfortunately, it's a disappointingly dumb outing that reminded me of some of the lesser Bond films, like "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) and "Die Another Day" (2002). The plot borrows heavily from the "Mission: Impossible" playbook, and anything related to The Heart is just downright silly. On top of that, the story is weak, the dialog is cringy, and the attempts at humor and character development fall flat. Gal Gadot looks pretty and gives a strong physical performance, but her character is uninteresting and her delivery is dull and lifeless. The film is clearly a star vehicle and/or vanity project for her, but I found the tone and forced attitude to be distasteful. Her actions definitely speak louder than words, and I only enjoyed her when she wasn't doling out the script's dreadful dialog. My favorite character ended up being one of Rachel's MI6 teammates, Yang (Jing Lusi), and my interest in the film waned after she was gone.

The film looks great and the locations are gorgeous. The climax takes place in Iceland, and it was fun being able to recognize so many places since I recently visited there. The action scenes are a mixed bag, and are both exciting and ridiculous. The most inexcusable segment takes place inside a hydrogen-filled airship, but no one is wearing any breathing equipment and the "airlock" just opens to the outside. They really should have reworked that entire set piece, because it doesn't make any sense and clearly wasn't thought out. In fact, most of the film is really loosey-goosey when it comes to science and logic, which makes it difficult to remain engaged. The film also suffers from needlessly shaky camera work and questionable editing, which throws off the rhythm and pacing. However, I have to admit that the visual effects are pretty darn good, and my suspension of disbelief was only disrupted by ludicrous situations and banal dialog rather than the film's visual presentation.

Despite not being very good, the film does raise some interesting questions about the moral ambiguity of revenge. All of the main characters are motivated by revenge and claim to support the greater good, so why do we end up cheering for Rachel instead of the others? What makes her mission more sympathetic and justifiable? She's fighting to maintain the status quo, while the "bad guys" want to actually improve the world - or so they say. But like all psychotic megalomaniacs, the villain doesn't care how many people die in the process. Villains of this caliber also seem to have infinite resources, so imagine the good they could do if they weren't so hungry for power.

Ultimately, "Heart Of Stone" desperately wants to be a "Mission: Impossible" movie, but it lacks the charm, polish, precision, and spectacle of that series. While I really like Gal Gadot, she feels like dead weight in the film, as if the director thought they could get by on her star power and charisma alone. Or perhaps it was Ms. Gadot's ego getting in the way? It's hard to tell who's responsible for the film's lack of appeal. I was initially annoyed this didn't get a theatrical release, but after seeing it, I kind of understand why it went straight to streaming.