The first rule of screenwriting? “Show, don’t tell.”
And yet, from the moment that the new Netflix spy thriller HEART OF STONE starring Gal Gadot begins, that rule is broken. Indeed, for almost any action in any scene throughout the two-hour film, there seems to be someone describing exactly what we’re seeing. Some of that may be necessary as the story concerns spies who have to keep everyone on the same page during the movements of a mission, but it’s so heavy-handed, it feels like the film comes with Cliff Notes.
Tom Rucka and Allison Schroeder, who wrote HEART OF STONE, are successful, award-winning scribes but their writing here is so on-the-nose, it feels shockingly amateurish. Director Tom Harper is no slouch either, having done excellent work in both film and television, but all his acumen gets sidelined too as the whole shebang is so dumbed down, it starts to feel insulting. And yet, everything that occurs is explained in a see-and-say way, from start to finish, that it becomes almost infuriating.
Perhaps the espionage story was simply too complicated for its own good with all of its tech speak throughout, but the core of its story is quite simple. A new computer system called “The Heart,” is capable of hacking any online system in the world and therefore a dangerous weapon that could upend financial markets, electrical grids, private information of world leaders, etc. Thankfully, Rachel Stone (Gadot) is on the case, trying to prevent a group of terrorists from accessing that computer that is owned by her underground espionage agency called “The Charter.” And as spies go, she’s not only one who’s a tech whiz but an expert at all kinds of Bond-ish in-the-field skills as well. She can chop, sock, hang glide, and drive a stick. You know she’ll have no problems saving “The Heart”, not to mention the world.
Of course, such a plot is basically just an excuse to have Gadot galivant all over Europe. looking lithe and limber, fighting any anonymous assassin sent her way. And indeed Gadot and her stunt doubles do an excellent job in the action sequences. Gadot’s commitment to all the physicality required would make Tom Cruise proud. He’d also probably blush at how much this film wants to play like a “Mission: Impossible” entry, but then imitation is supposed to be the most sincere form of flattery.
The film certainly spent a lot going to numerous lush locations, and a set piece on top of a zeppelin is pretty nifty too, but the film wastes Jamie Dornan in his role as foil to Gadot. The two stars aren’t even given an opportunity to generate some sexual chemistry together which seems like a huge missed opportunity. Additionally, the film squanders the casting of a great actress like Sophie Okonedo in the M-ish role of the boss at The Charter. The character is tough and pithy, but there’s no other dimension than those two. Matthias Schweighofer manages to make what he can of all his expositional language as his HQ techie over-explains everything that is happening, but he’s, unfortunately, more of a conceit than a character anyway.
With all these big-budget actioners being pumped out by Netflix, it would seem that they want to be the kind of film studio that produces ginormous tentpoles, yet too often HEART OF STONE feels informed by small screen sensibilities. Most TV shows are designed to explain everything being shown to easily distracted, multitasking, home-viewers and so much of that ethos has informed the action features Netflix has made over the past few years.
But as the saying goes, “Show, don’t tell.” And the sooner the studio realizes that, the better.