Heart Of Stone Review: Alia Bhatt, Gal Gadot Film Is Instantly Charming, Instantly Forgettable

Starring Alia Bhatt in her first appearance as a villain, this film is streaming on Netflix
Heart Of Stone Review: Alia Bhatt, Gal Gadot Film Is Instantly Charming, Instantly Forgettable

Director: Tom Harper

Writers: Greg Rucka, Allison Schroeder

Cast: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Matthias Schweighöfer

Heart of Stone is zero-gravity filmmaking, the kind of movie that floats along amiably, an amusing two-hour-long flight in which nothing ever seems to land – not the emotions, not the punches, not the twists. It’s frequently charming, but never tense or fraught. It’s light and buoyant, but never anchored in any real anxieties.

The film frequently calls to mind this year’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 but the comparison isn’t flattering. Both are action films centred around the threat of artificial intelligence and featuring near-silent blonde assassins, but where Dead Reckoning was edge-of-the-seat, Heart of Stone is laidback reclining. If Tom Cruise leaping off a cliff was hold-your-breath silence, this is a movie in which an early set piece of skiing segueing into paragliding segueing into a gunfight unfolds as a long breezy exhale. There's a plot about a secret agency in which the spies are codenamed after playing cards, but that feels like one long setup for a character to joke about having the winning hand at the end. The characters are never in any danger of death or damage; their safety is calculated with algorithmic precision. 

Literally. In Heart of Stone, a member of a covert spy operation (Gal Gadot) must prevent a prodigious hacker (Alia Bhatt) from stealing its “heart” – an artificial intelligence (AI) with unfettered global access that uses trillions of data points to predict and ensure the success of any mission.

Heart Of Stone Review: Alia Bhatt, Gal Gadot Film Is Instantly Charming, Instantly Forgettable
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Heart of Stone Plays To Its Actors’ Strengths 

Gal Gadot is one of cinema’s most striking faces, but there’s a blankness to her beauty that makes her the perfect choice to play a spy, a profession that relies on the ability to blend in as unobtrusively as possible. It's this blankness that made the actress such a great choice for the first Wonder Woman (2017) film, in which her character was an out-of-place naif, but which grated so much in the sequel, in which she was meant to have found her footing. 

Heart of Stone also plays to its villain’s qualities. Bhatt’s baby-facedness and girlish demeanour are worked into her character, who is pointedly identified as being 22 (the actor, meanwhile, is eight years older). Her awkwardness with English – that inability to land a solid villain punchline without the intonation sounding off – is explained away as her character being out of her depth, someone playing at being so much more assured that she really is. This softening of the edges, of rebranding villainy as youthful petulance, however, is also what never lets the film feel urgent or high-stakes. It also dilutes the emotion - the revelation of a tragic backstory comes out sounding rehearsed rather than wrenching. Jamie Dornan is set to 'charming', but his performance can't paper over an arc that unravels into a flat cliche. There's recurring chatter about the dangers of blindly entrusting missions to AI, but that thread is never fully developed through the film. Instead, the AI is always right, and it's the characters, with their human foibles, who make bad decisions.

Heart Of Stone Review: Alia Bhatt, Gal Gadot Film Is Instantly Charming, Instantly Forgettable
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The Film Offers Very Little Excitement

Characters in Heart of Stone don’t speak to each other so much as relay chunks of exposition that they should already know by now, just for the benefit of the audience. The film builds up the camaraderie and affection between spies working together but when characters are discarded abruptly, the loss doesn’t sting because the film swiftly moves on to the next plot point. Heart of Stone also leans hard into the tropes of the spy genre and in trying to subvert others, only creates more. Take, for example, what at first appears to be a burgeoning romance teased between two characters of opposing temperaments. Soon enough, the film pits them against each other – rogue agent vs mole. We also spend large amounts of time staring at spies staring at screens, which is as thrilling as it sounds.

It’s only towards the finish line that a countdown proffers any sort of urgency. But by the end, when the dust has settled and the promise of a sequel has been floated, the whole operation codenamed after a house of cards has come to resemble one – a lightweight film built on shaky foundations. 

Heart Of Stone Review by Anupama Chopra

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