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Alia Bhatt Shines in Netflix’s ‘Heart of Stone,’ an Otherwise Shallow Action Thriller

Alia Bhatt Shines in Netflix’s ‘Heart of Stone,’ an Otherwise Shallow Action Thriller

  • Lack of well developed character arcs, despite the quick change of scene between foreign locales, don’t do much to impress.

Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder developed the screenplay of “Heart of Stone” based on a story written by Rucka. The Tom Harper directed film stars Gal GadotJamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Sophie Okonedo, and Matthias Schweighöfer. The gorgeous Gal Gadot is my absolute favorite female actor since her role in “Wonder Woman.” I think she is very fluid in her renderings and has a classic beauty. 

I have new respect for the depth with which Alia Bhatt portrayed her role as “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” so, I was excited to see the duo together in the new spy thriller streaming on NetflixI cannot fault Gal Gadot, because whether she is swimming gracefully or falling from the skies on a blimp/parachute, or cuddling a kitty, she dominates the frame with her expressive eyes, and body language. She can look stunning in sweats with a small pendant gleaming on her neckline. 

Alia Bhatt has her own persona, with her inscrutable expressions and her typical lilting Bombay accent. It was surreal to see her face look up at the camera in her Hollywood debut in the casino scene. Bhatt transmits a palpable confusion across the void in her sky blue parka in Iceland. Gadot and Bhatt are both great actors in their own right but the plot, writing and dialogues are not particularly gripping to showcase their acting prowess. 

I stopped enjoying spy thrillers without a unique story line. I loved James Bond movies like “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” and the agility Roger Moore and Sean Connery exuded. Exotic locales were also fun before days of extensive global travel, and during the pandemic when the viewers were quarantined. But right now, we need more cerebral stimulation or at least I want to watch something that makes me think. 

Unfortunately, of late, in a big rush not to lose the viewers every high budget thrillers are featuring a great ensemble cast and incredible action cinematography but the plot is often shallow to make us sit through the film till the end or watch the entire series. Also there are so many of them streaming on Netflix, Prime and Hulu that they all run together. “Mission Impossible” series, “Citadel,” “Secret Invasion,” “Expendables,” “The Americans,” and so on and so forth. “Heart of Stone “reminds me of Priyanka Chopra starrer Citadel, in terms of lacking a good storyline.

Rachel Stone (Gadot) is a super spy who works for a secret agency called Charter. She is tasked to protect the mysterious artificial intelligence system known as “The Heart,” which is the core of the AI system used by the Charter to guide its operations. Mulvaney is an arms dealer after “ The Heart.” Stone enters a casino to be near Mulvaney and to hack into security’s encryption key. To maintain her cover while in the casino, Stone plays one hand of Blackjack. Field agents Parker and Yang  plan to inject Mulvaney to fake a heart attack and are thwarted by his bodyguard. But after a tussle where Stone takes out the six-man security team, Mulvaney apparently takes cyanide and dies.

Bhatt shows her inherent poise and holds her own, but she can only do what the script demands.

Stone goes to Charter headquarters where the “head of Charter” called  Nomad (played by a rather lifeless Sophie Okonedo) gives her a dressing down. Then they go to Lisbon, the agents are ambushed by several people. Stone opts to stay and save her MI6 team. She thus blows her cover. Once this is revealed, Parker kills the other MI6 team members, revealing that he is a double agent. Poisoning Stone, he immobilizes her, and embeds a device in her arm which can infiltrate Charter once she’s in their facility. As they revive Stone at Charter headquarters, she rips out the device Parker had embedded in her arm to hack into the Heart. Luckily the Locker, which protects the heart, is 85,000 feet above ground, and Jack confirms that the Trojan Horse was stopped in time.

Alia Bhatt  is cast as Keya Dhavan, a 22-year-old hacker. The “girl hacker” from Pune, who locks horns with Rachel in a race to locate a MacGuffin known as The Heart. Bhatt shows her inherent poise and holds her own, but she can only do what the script demands. If her lines are stilted and cliched, they do not help the versatile actor who has done wonders in movies like “Raazi,” “Gully Boy, “Darlings,” “Gangubai Kathiavadi”  and just recently in “Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani.”

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There is a little light heartedness, song, dance and banter in the first half but then things get grim and grimmer once Keya contacts Stone to mock her.  Stone threatens that she’s coming after Keya to avenge her friends — Bailey and Yang. In the interim, Charter’s four “kings’ ‘ meet to discuss why Parker is determined to obtain the Heart because of a past mission in Chechnya. Parker and Keya find and retrieve the Heart in the Locker, high above western Africa. Parker takes off in a helicopter with the Heart, while Stone and Keya fall in the desert in Senegal. There, Keya reveals that the Heart can only be unlocked using her biometric data. Ambushed by locals bribed by Parker’s men, Stone escapes by jumping into the sea. Stone washes ashore and is rescued by the Six of Hearts and is flown to Iceland with Charter’s aid, where Parker is using the Heart to kill the Charter members, especially the ‘kings.’

Using a tracker Stone placed on Keya, Charter locates them at Reykjavik University. Keya sees Parker’s obsession for power and revenge at any cost. He takes out one ‘king’ with her whole family, another by setting a trap, and he plans to take out the third, Nomad, by cutting off the ventilation in their underground bunker using the Heart. Wanting to right her wrongs, Keya helps Stone. Parker’s revenge plot is paused. In the ensuing fight, Keya and Stone stop Parker and reboot “the Heart ” in time to save the lives of Nomad and Charter members. In the end, Stone is assigned to lead a team with Keya and Jack. Is there going to be a sequel? Hope some attention will be paid to the mixed reviews.

Lack of well developed character arcs, despite the quick change of scene between foreign locales from the Alps to London, to the rooftops and streets of Lisbon to Senegal and to Iceland did not impress. Heart of Stone was released by Netflix on August 11, 2023. Somehow another doomsday theme did not send my heart racing. Even the pet peacock in an old fort in Rajasthan does not warm my heart. 

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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