Friday, November 24, 2023

Heart of Stone

Movie Name:
Heart of Stone
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Tom Harper
Starring: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Sophie Okonedo, Alia Bhatt, Jing Lusi, Matthias Schweighofer, Paul Ready, Enzo Cilenti, Joe Reisig, Luca Fiamenghi, Jon Kortajarena, Archie Madekwe, Ruth Keeling, Glenn Close
Genre: Thriller, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Another release hailing from streaming giant Netflix, "Heart of Stone" aims to capitalize on the appeal of Gal Gadot's charisma and presence, which she put to good use in Patty Jenkins' first adaptation of "Wonder Woman" (and not so much on the sequel). "Heart of Stone" focuses its narrative on Rachel Stone, a secret agent whom we initially encounter on a mission field in the Italian Alps. Rachel as we soon realize, is a tech wizard,  while her colleagues handle the field assignments. They're at a ski resort to extract information from an arms dealer. Things don't go as smoothly as expected, but we soon realize Rachel isn't all that she's revealing to be. She's in reality working for the Charter, an agency focused on peacekeeping around the world, which operates in complete secrecy. This agency leverages an AI device with the title "The Heart", which provides unparalleled technical abilities and even predictive behaviors beyond anything anyone is currently using. Though she almost reveals her full identity in the Alps, Rachel and the MI6 team get deployed to Lisbon in order to pursue a lead that may pinpoint a larger conspiracy that is currently taking place. Things don't go very well in Lisbon either, with Rachel ultimately having to expose herself to her colleagues in order to save them. Sadly all that is for nothing, as she has a double agent within MI6, whose intent is to capture "The Heart" and pursue an agenda of his own.
I mentioned in some prior reviews that after David Leitch's well received "Atomic Blonde", there's been a slew of films trying to replicate the female-centric James Bond formula, without the success of that series or of "Atomic Blonde" for that matter. Tanya Wexler's "Jolt" with the fantastic Kate Beckinsale tried to put a spin on that formula, as did Navot Papushado's "Gunpowder Milkshake", not forgetting "Kate" from Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. All these films were met with tepid responses, since essentially they tried to emulate the muscular, testosterone fueled Bond/Bourne films, without giving the central characters much in terms of motivation, dimension or even detail. What worked so well in "Atomic Blonde", aside from Charlize Theron's performance and magnetism, was the fact that Lorraine Broughton was cynical, but also fallible, and able to fall for someone, sometimes with an ultimate goal, and sometimes out of pure sexual chemistry (independently of the gender of the person in question). Sadly "Heart of Stone" is another formulaic and bland action film, that fails to create a distinct personality for itself. The director fails to make a decision if it should be a B-movie, with the typical approach this type of film has towards its characters and situations (either by emphasizing the violence or sexiness or the twists of the narrative), or if it should be instead a slick and sophisticated spy/action film akin to James Bond. Ultimately while the film isn't necessarily poorly executed, it just has nothing that makes it memorable, including all the characters, all of which are poorly described and illustrated, including a villain that has some less than transparent motivations, and who also seems a bit lost in all that's taking place. As for Gal Gadot and her central character, there isn't much that is particularly memorable about it (the character or the performance). The supporting cast manages to make a bit more with what little they have, including the always talented Sophie Okonedo (if people are looking to replace Ralph Fiennes' M with someone else, choose her), and Jamie Dornan, who at this point really needs to get a better agent or simply find better material. The location scout for this film is smart, which means choosing beautiful Lisbon for the film was a great decision and with picturesque views, while the production team is also solid, in particular George Steel's cinematography. Ultimately this film is a tepid and unmemorable endeavor. Here's hoping Netflix invests in better material.