In a world saturated with spy thrillers, Tom Harper’s Heart of Stone manages to disappoint on almost every level. It brings nothing new to the table and gets further bogged down by shoddy writing and even more insipid performances. Even the film’s title track has strains similar to Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money.’
You understand that the film will not do anything unique from the beginning. A supposedly covert mission becomes a spectacle when our protagonist, Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot), descends from the sky in a glowing parachute that somehow goes unnoticed by everyone.
Like most action films now, Heart of Stone also has a video game-like sequence that detracts more than it adds. Matthias Schweighöfer’s Jack uses advanced AI tech to guide Rachel through the rocky Swiss Alps and every adversary with a gun pointed at her. Instead of feeling invested in her high-stakes death-defying actions, you are left disconnected from it all. It’s like watching someone else play a video game and have fun while you are expected to sit on the sidelines and watch passively. It’s like being the solo viewer of a Twitch streamer.
One of the most baffling things about the film is how a group of presumably seasoned MI6 agents fail to recognise Stone’s combat abilities and accept her flimsy cover of being just a regular ol’ nerd. Logical discrepancies in the script aside, what is more worrying is that Heart of Stone is being planned to be the beginning of a franchise.
Alia Bhatt’s portrayal of hacker extraordinaire Keya Dhawan is inconsistent and all over the place. Her dialogue delivery is weak, and we barely get the essence of her character. Not that Gadot’s performance is likely to win any awards, except for a Razzie may be. As a result, the chemistry between Bhatt and Gadot, which is essential for a film of this genre, falls flat. The duo’s interactions lack any sizzle. The womance is DOA here.
The premise of protecting The Heart, the mysterious AI-powered MacGuffin, is intriguing in theory. However, the execution is so dull and nonsensical. Placing the object in a combustible zeppelin with zero protection seems stupid. What if there is an atmospheric storm? Why is there no backup for this revolutionary Heart? A futile endeavour to ask questions when all you are supposed to do is enjoy the spectacle of all things that go boom.
The acting performances across the board fall below par, contributing to the overall sense of mediocrity. Jamie Dornan seems to be the only one trying. Even Sophie Okonedo, a talented actor, cannot salvage her character, Nomad, from the confines of the film’s lacklustre writing. While the film boasts a decent enough cast, its talents are wasted on a terrible screenplay and direction that struggles to find its footing. One shot worth noting is of the tiny restaurant Stone’s MI6 team gathers at after their Swiss mission. It is cosy, colourful, and very nostalgic.
Weirdly enough, the screenplay is by Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder, based on a story by Rucka, who debuted as a screenwriter with the critically lauded hit The Old Guard. Even Schroeder co-wrote Hidden Figures, which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. But none of that talent is poured into this one.
Heart of Stone may be a tad more enjoyable on a bigger screen, but even then, the storyline fails to deliver the intrigue and suspense that are hallmarks of the spy genre. The dialogues feel forced and the interactions between the characters are devoid of any genuine emotion. Heart of Stone also feels too afraid to take a definitive stance against the destructive powers of AI in the wrong hands, only settling with feebly noting: ‘Hey y’all! AI is just a tool, don’t be afraid that it will replace the human touch.’
With its implausible plot points—which is still forgivable in popcorn flicks, lack of rapport between the main characters, and subpar acting, Heart of Stone is easily one of the most boring snoozefests of 2023 so far.