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The Firewall

Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Heart of Stone (2023)

Finally, movies are getting back to what they are supposed to be good at: putting pretty people into mild peril in visually interesting places. Who wouldn’t fly direct from the Senegalese desert to downtown Reykjavik if they could? “Heart of Stone” is a supremely silly action movie that does a fine job of passing the time. And that’s cinema.

Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) is the new hacker for a British intelligence security team, led by Parker (Jamie Dornan, using his own Northern Irish accent) and comprised of driver Bailey (Paul Ready) and muscle Yang (Jing Lusi). They are at a mountaintop casino in the Alps, or somewhere, to capture a villain – well, he’s not important either. The issue is there’s a secret room in a casino which reveals military-grade encryption has been hacked! Stone is separated from the others and oh my god, she is not really working from British intelligence! Instead she works for something called The Charter, basically a stateless, corporate intelligence agency, and is able to single-handedly defeat a whole bunch of villains without her team realizing she’s better at their jobs than they are. However! Also in the casino is a young hacker named Keya (Alia Bhatt), who knows Stone’s true identity and is after the algorithm that leads most of The Charter’s work.

But honestly, who cares. All these plot points are simply to string together some absolutely banging action sequences, such as a home-invasion shootout which trashes a cheap apartment in Lisbon (throughout which Ms. Lusi wears a silver sequined club dress and fluffy white slippers, a delightful ensemble), followed by a car chase through appropriately hilly streets which threatens the city’s cute yellow trams. The main sequence involves skydiving over the Senegalese desert and some fairly vertigo-inducing fighting on top of a blimp several thousands of feet up. I mean, where else do you keep your most secret and precious hard drive? Having Ms. Gadot rifle through the junk drawers in somebody’s kitchen would be a considerably different movie. There’s also a world-class cameo – not quite Matt Damon in “EuroTrip,” but not far off – and a genuine twist that had the entire cinema sitting up in shock. Plus a cat named Barry.

And then there’s the whole concept of The Charter. The dialogue can be ignored as you ponder who is paying the salaries of Stone’s manager Nomad (Sophie Okonedo) or the rent for the large stately home in the English countryside, complete with peacocks, where they have their secret headquarters. Stone’s quartermaster, Jack (Matthias Schweighöfer), is basically a combination of Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton’s characters in “Minority Report,” manipulating data through flicky wrist gestures while never leaving a holosuite in which he can call up infrared 3D vision of any room in the world you please. During Stone’s missions, she and Jack bicker through teeny earpieces that work perfectly smoothly at all times whether she’s paragliding down a snowy mountaintop or sneaking into a secure underground server room – no tech nightmares for these people! This level of private interference in the world’s personal lives is also A-OK because governments need to outsource their threat management sometimes too; and algorithms like the one at the core of The Charter’s work is designed to work only in human interests. But can an algorithm truly know a human heart??

Ms. Gadot has so much beauty and charm that her limited range as an actress matters not a jot; Ms. Bhatt does wonderful, quieter work as a traumatized kid out for revenge, though not at any price; Mr. Dornan is miles sexier here than he ever was in that ridiculous soft-porn trilogy, even in the flashback to his bearded self in Chechnya; and director Tom Harper keeps things bopping briskly along from stunt to stunt.

It is also very funny, though not always intentionally, most especially at the device which ends up saving the day in the end. If there is a quibble, it’s that a lot of the action scenes are filmed in a murky half-light which hides more than it shows. Cinematographer George Steel did superb work with the black and whites in “The Survivor,” so this must have been a deliberate choice to make the stunt performances blend with the actors. And let me repeat: the fact it is real people leaping out of airplanes, or off the top of a cliff, or riding a motorbike down a snowy mountain gives all of the actions an edge that no C.G.I. can match. Audiences are getting very tired of the superhero wham-bam trickery that has nothing genuine at stake, which involve no danger and no reality of any kind, no matter how ludicrous. So it doesn’t much matter than the lights are dim. It’s a real person getting flipped onto a kitchen counter, or dangled out the side of a van, and that real sensation is what movies are aiming for. And that’s where “Heart of Stone” truly delivers. Behold cinema.


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