disclaimer: Netflix sucks, needs to admit that their business model is a scam and figure out how to pay the artists who make their shit.
HEART OF STONE is Netflix’s attempt at an action franchise for Gal Gadot (TRIPLE 9). It’s certainly not as well executed as EXTRACTION or EXTRACTION II, and I think THE GRAY MAN is trying to do a few more interesting things visually and otherwise, but I enjoyed this one for its straight-faced use of hokey action/spy movie tropes with a fun tone and high production value (though not compared to the somewhat similar and obviously way better MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies). I really think this is the best way to explain it: it’s called HEART OF STONE and it stars Gal Gadot as “Rachel Stone.” If that makes you say “fuck yeah” like it did for me, you may enjoy it. If it makes you roll your eyes, then you know what to do (watch it anyway and then complain about it).
It opens mid-MI6 mission, a team stakeout at an elite ski resort/casino in the Alps, with agents Parker (Jamie Dornan, ROBIN HOOD) and Yang (Jing Lusi, Gangs of London) trying to catch a notorious arms dealer. Stone is in the van, doing computer nerd stuff – she’s the Simon Pegg. But she loses her connection, realizes she could hack the head of security’s phone from the blackjack table, and disobeys Parker’s order to “stay in the van – you’re not a field agent!”
Oh, I see, so this is gonna be the story of how a lowly computer tech was thrown into the fire and forged into motherfuckin RACHEL STONE, right? Wrong! As the team chases their target down the mountain, Rachel falls down, says she hurt her ankle, tells them to go on without her. Then she puts in a different earpiece and starts talking to a different team who know her as “Nine of Hearts.” Turns out she’s been doing a Clark Kent thing the whole time, she’s only undercover as MI6, she’s actually spent her entire adult life working for a mythical group called The Charter, headed by Nomad (Sophie Okonedo, AEON FLUX). “When governments fail, the only thing left is The Charter.” They work out of a strange mansion with a pet peacock, and – coincidentally similar to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING’s “The Entity,” – use “a quantum computer sophisticated enough to hack into anything, anywhere” called The Heart. Rachel’s handler Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer, the safecracker from ARMY OF THE DEAD) watches its calculations of probability while excitedly moving around three-dimensional holographic computer displays and telling her what to do over the headset.
HEART OF STONE takes less of a hardline stance against The Heart than DEAD RECKONING does against The Entity, but Rachel does go against Charter dogma by questioning their reliance on it, as well as the danger of it falling into The Wrong Hands. They have a funny way of indicating what an invasion of privacy it is: there’s a montage of overlapping files and videos illustrating the idea that “It can hack into anything, anywhere. Cell phones, power grids, the banks, governments, military, health records. Your secrets. It knows you better than you know yourself.” And then the word “Pornography” just flies across the screen. A closer inspection informs us that someone named Cameron, age 27, username Noremac95, unemployed, has viewed 1006 channels of said pornography. And by the way the word stops with just the “Porno” part visible on the screen, so that was all I noticed on the first viewing and it’s even funnier that way.
I’ve got bad news, Cameron. It seems the Heart knows about your Porno.
I don’t know if Rachel has any concerns about her Porno, I think she’s too preoccupied with her double life, trying not to be outed to her MI6 team after she’s gotten too close to them. They like going out for drinks after work and she makes excuses to leave early but still… she has bonded with them. Asks about their daughters and cats and stuff. That’s against the rules. Also, during the mission in the Alps she’s taunted by a young computer genius named Keya (Alia Bhatt, RRR), who’s working with the traitor but is an obvious mirror of Rachel – an orphan prodigy taken under someone’s wing and trained to use her skills to go after people who wronged her and others. It’s not a surprise that these two make a connection, but not a disappointment either. It’s what you want to see. The women of the movie shutting out the controlling man in both their lives and working shit out themselves.
The action is very 007, maybe slightly xXx. I like her light-up parachute, her stolen “snowbike,” her frequent use of regular non-snow motorcycles, and the scene where she decides to say fuck this, openly kick ass in front of the MI6 team, and expertly drive the van for them in a well done chase. There are clearly many doubles used for fights, but it’s a well done version of that type of action, obvious green screen is pretty limited, stunts and FX are well integrated, including for a bunch of good skydiving.
A favorite part is when she’s been benched by The Charter but continues chasing the bad guy. Her people are watching a holographic radar of their secret above-the-atmosphere airbase being robbed, and see something moving in fast, then realize it’s someone, then realize specifically who.
Here’s an example of a small but important action movie thing this does right. One of the main henchmen they keep fighting is a blond guy who looks and dresses like a model. We don’t really know anything about his character other than seeing that he’s kind of pampered by sub-henchmen, at least when it comes to transportation, when he has a guy who drives him around on a motorcycle instead of driving himself. He’s just credited as “The Blond,” but he has such a distinct look that every time he shows up again you think, “This fuckin guy again.” And then (SPOILER) he gets a death worthy of a memorable character. It might sound like a small thing, but watch a certain number of movies with bland, interchangeable European thugs and you’ll appreciate it. “The Blond” is played by Jon Kortajarena, who is indeed a model. He made his acting debut in Tom Ford’s A SINGLE MAN.
People always complain about bland looking Netflix productions, but I think this one looks pretty nice. The cinematographer is George Steel (not the wrestler, I’m afraid, but a guy who shot some Peaky Blinders and The Sandman and ROBIN HOOD) and the production designer is Charles Wood (TWIN SITTERS, MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, GET CARTER, also like eight of the MCU movies).
I consider this a solid Gal Gadot movie. I got out of it something similar to what I hope for when I go to a matinee of a Jason Statham or Liam Neeson vehicle – an enjoyable romp through favorite genre tropes, some charismatic actors, some badass shit, some laughs (some of them definitely intentional, some of them maybe not). I guess now Gadot has gone through an arc from people talking shit when she was cast as Wonder Woman because they were philistines and didn’t already love her as Gisele from FAST & FURIOUS, to everyone loving her when she was so good in WONDER WOMAN, to now some backlash either because the excitement wore off or because they hated the sequel or because she made that silly video during COVID lockdown or because she’s Israeli and people put the sins of her country on her. My feelings haven’t changed, I think she’s great for this type of larger-than-life character – glamorously beautiful, good physical presence, a sense of intelligence, a strong feeling of sincerity no matter the role, looks cool on a motorcycle or (it turns out) light-up parachute or wingsuit. I would gladly watch another Rachel Stone adventure or other Gal Gadot action showcase.
And now that Gisele (Gadot) has a Netflix action vehicle and so does Elena (Elsa Pataky, INTERCEPTOR) and Cipher (Charlize Theron, THE OLD GUARD) I would like to see Netflix make action showcases for Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). I have been informed that Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) has a major role in ARMY OF THIEVES, but I’m not sure if it’s about her wearing a leather jacket and kicking people in the face and jumping off of things. If not, let’s get her one too.
Music note: This is the second Netflix production where I noticed a Fela Kuti song on the soundtrack. It was more prominent in THE HARDER THEY FALL, but here we hear “Zombie” playing in the car when she catches a ride in Senegal.
HEART OF STONE is directed by Tom Harper (THE AERONAUTS) and written by Greg Rucka (THE OLD GUARD, both the movie and the comic, plus many other comics) and Allison Schroeder (MEAN GIRLS 2, HIDDEN FIGURES, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN). Stunt supervisor is Jón Viðar Arnþórsson (THE NORTHMAN)b stunt coordinators include David Chan (no other IMDb credits), Jo McLaren (OVERLORD), Carlos Pereira (no other credits either) and Martim Vidigal (LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP), and maybe most importantly extreme sports stunt coordinator is J.T. Holmes (wingsuit flying coordinator of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, halo jump coordinator of GODZILLA). Enjoy their work before you forget it exists.