There is a formula, a kind of a manual, on how to design an espionage thriller. Open with a big action set piece in a European town that establishes the skills and heroism of the lead, in the mould of Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, for example. Then there’s deception and betrayal, maybe a double agent or spy within the ranks, followed by a hair-raising chase through the narrow streets of another European town.

Finally, when the bad guys appear to have the upper hand, the hero – or, in the case of Heart of Stone, the heroine – almost singlehandedly saves the thing that is so precious that collateral damage is a minor consequence.

Heart of Stone, directed by Tom Harper (Aeronauts, Peaky Blinders), is no different. Gal Gadot’s Rachel Stone is a super-skilled spy and member of the Charter, a mythical peacekeeping agency that relies heavily on seriously advanced technology and a mechanical “Heart” to save the world. But when that Heart, which represents knowledge and power, is threatened, Stone is the only one who can intercept the brain (or brains) behind the attack.

The 120-minute Netflix film opens in Italy, where we first see Rachel do her thing. She’s the tech support for a unit that includes Parker (Jamie Dornan), Max (Paul Ready) and Theresa (Jing Lusi), who are unaware of Rachel’s true identity.

It’s not long before Rachel encounters her adversary, Keya Dhawan. Alia Bhatt takes on a substantial role, thoughtfully playing the pivotal character of a hacker from Pune who is one step ahead of MI6 and even the Charter.

Gal Gadot in Heart of Stone (2023). Courtesy Netflix.

At this point, the story starts to travel across countries – the UK, Senegal, Iceland and Portugal. Deceptions and betrayals follow. Loyalties change.

Harper keeps the action pumping, leaving little time to question the crazy idea of the Heart, underlining the narrative with an eclectic soundtrack that ranges from Fleetwood Mac to Lizzo, Amalia Rodrigues and Fela Kuti.

Gadot, Dornan and Bhatt become central to the plot and its outcome, and it’s fun to watch them spar and brawl with each other. Though Dornan and Bhatt hold their ground, Heart of Stone is very much the Gal Gadot Show. There are likely to be more adventures ahead for Rachel Stone, but one wonders whether Bhatt will build on this very respectable international debut.

Heart of Stone (2023).