Friday, July 19, 2024

‘Heart of Stone’ is Buttery Popcorn Fun

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Heart of Stone is a popcorn movie. The movie critic Jordan Crucchiola pointed out that Heart of Stone is titled “like a Hallmark Romance Franchise.” It’s a perfect description because your reaction to it will ultimately tell you if you should bother seeing Heart of Stone.

I loved it. But I’m also okay with corny. Tom Harper’s Mission Impossible/James Bond hodgepodge feels less like copy and paste and more like cheesy fun in a sandbox of tropes and cliches. I often feel like I’m repeating myself when I say, “Movies aren’t real.” But they aren’t, and you often have to accept a lot of nonsense to enjoy them. That’s not a bug; that’s a feature. 

Movies aren’t real.

heart of stone
Agent Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot)

It’s also why movie stars are necessary. Gal Gadot in Heart of Stone, the latest from Netflix, is a perfect reminder. It’s an action movie with a 90s vibe and feels like it’s riffing on decades of action franchises that came before it. Heart of Stone requires someone like Gal Gaot. A lesser mortal would have to make us believe all the hubbub. With a movie star, the camera merely has to zoom in on Gadot, and we go, “Oh, right. She’s a double agent working undercover at MI6 for another even more secret and shadowy agency. Got it.”

But you also need a director who understands how to use a movie star. Tom Harper understands that Gadot’s mere presence means they can cut out all the unnecessary exposition and move right on to the action. Movie stars provide a narrative shortcut. Good thing, too, because Greg Rucka and Allison Schroder have a lot of exposition to get through.

You see, a secret organization, The Charter, owes no allegiance to any nation, cause, or political group. The Charter has a software program called “The Heart,” a sort of predictive AI; think Minority Report but meant for Warlords rather than petty crooks. Look, you, and I understand that any organization of that scale would logically have to have some political allegiance, not to mention that it demands secrecy alludes to the fact that it may not be as impartial as it claims. 

But again, movies aren’t real. I once had a movie try to convince me Mark Wahlberg was a literature professor. There’s no end of nonsense you must swallow when it comes to film, though admittedly, some of it is harder to swallow than others.

It’s very tempting to believe you’re smarter than a movie. But frankly, when a movie has a character named Stone, whose title is Heart of Stone, and the main McGuffin is called “the heart,” then I’m sorry, the movie may know precisely what it’s doing. Heart of Stone isn’t gritty, but Harper and his screenwriters aren’t afraid to take a few chances.

heart of stone
Nomad (Sophie Okonedo) and Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighofer)

Heart of Stone does something I legit didn’t see coming early on in the film, and it made me buy into the whole thing. Yes, all the jibber jabber is vague enough to be meaningless, but that’s the case in many spy-thrillers. If you wanted deep mediation on the moral ramifications of nation-states, you shouldn’t be watching a Gal Gadot Netflix movie.

Not to mention Harper and Gadot aren’t afraid of being corny. Stone’s codename is “Nine of Hearts,” and her boss, played by Sophie Okonedo, is “Nomad.” The tech guy, played by Matthias Schweighofer, is known as Jack of Hearts, and the voice in Stone’s ear tells her The Heart’s plan of action.

Then there’s Jamie Dornan as Parker and superstar Alia Bhatt. Parker is the type of bad guy who’s fun because he’s so not smart he doesn’t realize how not smart he is. Thankfully Bhatt’s Keya as the super hacker with the tragic past that wants to take down the Charter and use the Heart to take down the evil men is a better, more compelling villain. 

Bhatt’s Keya is the flip side of Stone, something the film has a little fun with before getting back to what matters, the action.

You may not believe me, but the action in Heart of Stone is better than the action in Hidden Strike in that it is exciting, with some pretty rad stuntwork; it also doesn’t have the egregious amount of bad green screen. Both movies were shot on location, but Heart of Stone looks and moves better. No one in this movie is on the same level as Jackie Chan or John Cena, but this only shows how crucial it is to get a director who knows how to assemble the moving parts.

Chan’s action set pieces are fun, and Cena’s riffing is a joy to behold but get lost in the visual miasma of Hidden Strike. Heart of Stone is a polished effort with thrilling action scenes shot in a way that doesn’t take you out of the movie. Aside from taking advantage of all the tropical locales, the DP, George Steel works with Harper to maintain a visual tone and mood so that the action scenes look good and are fun to watch.

Steel and Harper use CGI, but they blend it in better. At times it’s obvious, but in that way, where you know what you’re watching isn’t real, but that’s fine. It never really takes you out of the movie.

A particular favorite of mine was a car chase scene where Stone reveals her true self to her MI6 team. The chase involves going backward on crowded city streets and onto train tracks. For a Netflix movie and a theatrical release, it’s a damn fun car chase. 

heart of stone
Keya (Alia Bhatt)

Heart of Stone isn’t flawless. As much as I love Bhatt, she feels underused by Harper, especially considering both as a character and as a presence; her Keya is more fun and exciting than Dornan’s Parker. Not to mention BD Wong and Glenn Close have small parts, they kill it, but Rucka and Schroder’s script doesn’t give them nearly enough to play with.

Still, I couldn’t help but be tickled by Harper’s Heart of Stone. The action is solid, and Harper and Steel recognize that Gadot’s facial profile is worth a thousand words. Plus, the ending is an excellent little play on how the movie opened and sets the tone for the rest of the more than likely sequels. A new team in place and Gadot strutting toward the camera as the music swells and the lights go bright, no reason this can’t be fun. 

Images courtesy of Netflix

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