‘Heart of Stone’ Review: A Derivative Spy Movie That Still Delivers

'Heart of Stone' has quite a few fun moments, but it does pale in comparison to some of its contemporaries.

Sophie Okonedo as Nomad and Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone in Heart Of Stone. Cr. Robert Viglasky/Netflix © 2023.

A top secret spy organization made up of elite agents who operate outside of any national jurisdiction. A protagonist whose time in this group is complicated by their bleeding heart and a need to protect more people than they should. A treacherous body of AI that threatens our entire world, should it fall into the wrong hands.

If these plot points and character descriptions sound familiar, it’s probably because they are all key to last month’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. But these components also make up Netflix (NFLX)’s newest action movie, Heart of Stone, a spy flick that uses them to serviceable (if not superior) results.

HEART OF STONE ★★1/2 (2.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Tom Harper
Written by: Greg Rucka, Allison Schroeder
Starring: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Sophie Okonedo
Running time: 125 mins.

Gal Gadot stars as Rachel Stone, a highly skilled agent who works for the Charter, a shadowy group of intelligence leaders and operatives who keep the world safe from itself by using the Heart, a sophisticated program of artificial intelligence. The film starts with her undercover as an amateur MI6 agent, joining in on ops to bust a weapons dealer with British teammates Parker (Jamie Dornan), Yang (Jing Lusi) and Bailey (Paul Ready). However, her operation-within-an-operation gets blown wide open by Keya (Alia Bhatt), a brilliant hacker with her heart set on, well, the Heart.

Things begin at a brisk pace, with director Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders, Wild Rose) piecing together a fun cold open at the top of the Alps. The MI6 team crackles with charismatic rhythm, and Gadot’s pretend doe-eyed novice serves as a knowing wink to the audience. It’s inevitable that her cover will unravel, and the movie has its first little twist (one of several, though they quickly begin to have diminishing returns) as she transforms from a mild-mannered pencil pusher to a parachuting, ziplining, bad-guy-busting bad ass. The actress is more than capable of anchoring a fight scene, and Heart of Stone gives her some space to make use of her skills. Lusi and Dornan also impress in the more action-packed sequences, though the former is underutilized and the latter doesn’t quite get the opportunity to show off like his co-stars.

Jing Lusi as Yang and Jamie Dornan as Parker in Heart Of Stone. Robert Viglasky/Netflix

That kind of unrealized potential is at the heart (pardon the pun) of Heart of Stone’s issues. The film presents a globetrotting adventure as characters careen from Italy to Iceland to the Sahara, but the majesty of its locations is downgraded by some fairly obvious CGI. The same can be said of the action. Yes, several fight scenes are bruisingly physical, and there’s a riveting car chase through Lisbon, but these successes end up overshadowed by effects-heavy set pieces that feel too flat to make an impact. 

The characters tend to share that flatness. Dornan’s suave MI6 agent and Bhatt’s tortured hacker are on the receiving end of some particularly convoluted backstories, only to have the specifics of their motivations go largely unexamined. Heart of Stone opts for broad strokes, which would be a bit more forgivable if the rest of the movie hit the heights it was so clearly aiming for.

Rachel Stone is as close to a carbon copy of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as copyright law could allow; the Charter’s secrecy and recruiting strategy mimics that of the IMF. Like Simon Pegg’s Benji, Matthias Schweighӧfer’s character largely exists to analyze data on ridiculously high-tech computers. For a bit of a franchise change, Sophie Okonedo’s Nomad does give Judi Dench’s M a run for her money when it comes to stern lectures, but the effect is the same. Heart of Stone is happy to take its cues from predecessors in the spy genre—which isn’t a problem in and of itself. The formula does still work, but the sum of the movie’s parts doesn’t quite add up the same.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Heart of Stone’ Review: A Derivative Spy Movie That Still Delivers