If the artists’ strike and warnings of the majority of the intelligentsia don’t manage to shake the corporate giants out of their complacency regarding the aggressive advancement of all-pervasive technology, perhaps the recent swathe of spy flicks will. Netflix’s recent release, Heart of Stone, is probably the third movie in this single month that revolves around an omnipresent tech McGuffin.
In all seriousness, aside from playing on tried (read tired) and tested genre tropes of spy-action movies, and despite following the recent tendencies of throwing around characters with exposition-filled backstories, Heart of Stone proves to be a fun watch due to its effort to anchor an emotional weight through the narrative. The movie was also the Hollywood debut of Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt. However, there is scope for improvements if, as planned by the makers, Heart of Stone spawns a new franchise, in which case having female actors take center stage in an otherwise male-dominated genre of movies can be its biggest USP.
Spying The Spies: Who Is Rachel Stone?
Heart of Stone opens in the ski resort of Alpin Arena Senales in Italy, where a team of MI6 agents is covertly awaiting the arrival of Europe’s most notorious arms dealer, named Mulvaney, to attend a casino event. We are introduced to four agents assigned for the mission: the tech duo Rachel Stone and Bailey, and the field agents Yang and Parker. The newest recruit, Stone, has been working with the team for a year and is inexperienced in fieldwork, which is why the rest of the team is protective of her. Among the members, Bailey is Stone’s closest friend—like an elder brother to her—who shares every basic detail of his life, right from being a cat parent to asking for help selecting a dollhouse for his niece.
Anyway, at the casino event, the agents notice a live stream of the US Navy Seals’ current operation being broadcast, on which the resourceful attendees are making wagers, and Stone wonders how technology advanced enough to hack a private military server could have been accessed by the organizers. Soon after their cover gets blown, the agents engage in a brief conflict with Mulvaney’s henchmen and find out that their communication link has been hacked by a female hacker, who is seemingly also responsible for the Navy Seals’ data breach as well. Stone identifies the hacker as a girl in her mid-twenties who disappears into the crowd. Parker manages to capture Mulvaney and instructs the rest of the members to rendezvous at the foothill area of the mountain resort thousands of feet below, where he descends with Mulvaney through a cable car.
Agent Yang locates more of Mulvaney’s henchmen gathering in the foothills, which means an unaware Parker is going to be a sitting duck going blind into the cable car. Bailey and Yang rush to the spot in the car, while a clumsy Stone decides to stay behind, only to reveal that she is a secret agent of an uber-cool espionage group named Chariot, and her persona as an inexperienced techie is only a cover for her main job. Using high-tech gadgets and with the assistance of Jack, her Charter associate, Stone arrives at the foothill before Yang and Parker, decimates all of Mulvaney’s henchmen, and quickly covers her tracks. But as Parker arrives at the scene, Mulvaney is seen to have poisoned himself by popping a cyanide pill.
What is Charter?
Charter is a secretive agency formed by ex-intelligence personnel across the world, an institution with no ties or leanings to any particular national or political identity that seeks to serve mankind in the instances where self-serving, greedy nationalistic warmongers won’t. The agency has four divisions, each with designated overseers, or kings, who preside over four divisions: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs. Rachel Stone is designated as Nine of Hearts and operates under the King of Hearts—the veteran lady only known as Nomad. As one of the most vital members of the covert organization, she is barred from making any form of emotional connection with people, even with her MI6 team, as the job at hand is too important to let emotional vulnerabilities affect her, and she is not allowed to risk blowing her cover at any cost.
The most significant asset of Charter is a quantum computer known simply as the Heart, an artificial intelligence that can hack into any device on the planet or outside that has a digital interface. Accessing an insane amount of data, it has the capability of controlling every financial, defensive, logistical, and interactive sphere and is essentially an incarnation of the concept of determinism itself. Heart’s accurate calculations and algorithmic predictions can warn of future catastrophes and significant patterns, which is how members of the Charter operate one step ahead of even the world’s best intelligence organizations. The entire shtick of heart is similar to ‘The Machine’ in Person of Interest and ‘The Entity’ in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning.
At MI6 HQ, the superior agent berates Stone and co. for their apparent failure and instructs them to capture the girl who broke not only theirs but also the US Navy’s military encryption as their new mission. Later, as the team chats over the topic during a dinner meeting, Bailey airs his suspicions about the girl being a part of Chariot. The organization’s existence is only seen as an urban myth to the outside world; the rest of the team members and Stone quickly brush aside Bailey’s speculations. The day after, Stone goes directly to the Hearts team headquarters, an ornate, baroque old mansion accessed only through specialized cards or passkeys.
Who Is Keya Dhawan? Who Betrayed The MI6 Team?
At the HQ, Stone meets with Jack and Nomad, who have already deduced the identity of the girl thanks to Heart’s impeccable calculations. Keya Dhawan, a 22-year-old orphan from Pune, India, is the hacker in question. She was adopted by millionaire investor Niam Kharche, who noticed Keya as a science prodigy at a young age and took her under his wing. Later, they had a falling out, and Keya went her own way. Nomad states that according to the Heart’s predictions, Keya will be present in Lisbon, and by providing her whereabouts to Stone’s MI6 team, they will capture her. Stone isn’t too sure that’s the best course of action, as she believes Keya made her presence known to her for a reason, and luring MI6 out might be part of her ulterior plan. However, Nomad asks her to put a stop to her speculations and comply, which she does.
According to the plan, MI6 receives the tip about Keya, and Stone and her team arrive in Lisbon. However, at their hotel suite, they are caught off-guard by a bunch of armed mercenaries. With Parker knocked out cold, Yang and Bailey soon get overpowered by the mercenaries, while over the comms, Jack instructs Stone to escape by navigating a safe exit route. Stone initially gets out of the ruckus, but feeling concerned about the team, she returns to her hotel suite and ditches her communication with Chariot. Now entering the arena with guns blazing, Stone surprises her MI6 teammates by displaying optimum skills and abilities to take down the mercenaries, and she guides the team to safety before more of the mercenaries arrive.
After a prolonged chase across Lisbon, Stone and co. are able to shake the mercs off, and the rest of the team confronts Stone about this surprising reveal. Stone admits to them that she is a member of Charter and, like them, is trying to bring Keya to the authorities as well. But now it’s time for her to get the shock of a lifetime, as she realizes that she wasn’t the only one keeping secrets from the team when Parker brutally guns down Yang and Bailey. It is revealed that Parker is working with Keya, and the Mulvaney meeting was orchestrated by the duo, where Parker learned about Heart, the ultimate skeleton key of Charter. Parker seems to harbor a personal vendetta, and now that Stone has revealed herself as a member of the organization, he has what he needs to gain access to the Heart. A brief scuffle between the duo ensues, and Parker nicks Stone with a paralytic poison and injects a trojan biochip inside her body.
How Did Keya And Parker Gain Access To The Heart?
Stone is brought to the Heart’s HQ for treatment, and the trojan biochip in her body wirelessly destroys most of the cyber security in order to gain access to the Heart. Still disoriented, Stone manages to tear the biochip out of her body and destroy it, but in the three-minute window, unbeknownst to the team, the damage has already been done, and we will get to that later. Stone asks Nomad and Jack to shut the heart down until they find out more about Keya and Parker’s real motives, but Nomad disapproves of this and blames Stone for the ruckus she has caused. She argues that she should not have returned to her teammates, ignoring Heart’s commands, because if she had escaped, Parker might have followed her, and with him being caught, the mission would not have been compromised, her cover would not have been blown, and her MI6 teammates, Yang and Bailey, might still have been alive. Nomad dismisses her for the time being, and a devastated Stone officially quits Charter, as signified by her throwing away the passkey. Keya contacts Stone almost to taunt her, but gets shocked to know that her MI6 team members were murdered by Parker. In any case, Stone threatens her, saying that she is coming for her and Parker. On the other side of the world, Keya questions Parker about murdering Yang and Bailey as she seems to have an aversion to taking lives and doesn’t fully realize the implications of her actions. Parker chastises her and asks her to concentrate on the technical aspects instead.
At an opera house, the four Kings of Charter meet where they discuss Parker, and as the youngest King of the agency, Nomad is informed about his history with the agency. It is revealed that seven years ago, during the Chechen rebellion against a tyrannical warlord, Parker was stationed there as an MI6 agent under a different alias, aiding the villagers against the oppressive regime by supplying them ammunition. However, Parker’s team was executed by the warlord’s forces, leaving only him alive, and in order to keep the ammunition from falling into the wrong hands, the Kings of Charter ordered a drone strike. The strike killed everyone in the vicinity, but unbeknownst to the agencies, Parker had survived. Charter and MI6 considered the agents collateral damage, and their identities, along with details of the entire mission, were buried deep. Parker is now out for revenge and wishes to bring Charter to its knees.
Meanwhile, the brief trojan attack at Charter HQ provided Keya and Parker with the location of Heart’s mainframe, where the physical access to the AI’s control key lies. It is on a hydrogen airship, which is currently hovering 80,000 feet above West Africa, where they are headed. Using their limited access thanks to the previous trojan attack, the airship can be lowered to half its height, where they plan to halo jump onto it to get the control key to the heart. A distraught Stone goes to Bailey’s house, has an emotional outpour as he comes across his feline companion, and backtracks her conversation with Keya to learn that she and Parker are going to West Africa. It is too late when Charter realizes about Parker’s attack, but thankfully Stone has also arrived just in time to halo jump and apprehend Keya and Parker. As Stone clashes with Parker once again, Keya imprints her biometrics on Heart’s mainframe so that only she can access and use them, and she gains the main control key. Despite Stone’s best efforts, Parker manages to escape with the heart control key and destroy the airship. Stone manages to latch on to Keya, and the duo parachute their way to the desert below, much to Parker’s dismay.
Did Rachel Retrieve The Heart? What Happened To Keya?
Stone decides to take Keya back to Charter, but unable to communicate with them in any way, he journeys through the desert to Senegal. On the way, upon questioning, Keya reveals that the reason she sides with Parker and wants to gain access to Heart is to bring down Kharche, who was responsible for the deaths of her parents, who were used as lab rats in Kharche’s pharmaceutical company. Stone warns Keya about Parker’s violent, ulterior motives, which she can’t comprehend yet, given her youthful and impressionable perception misguiding her, and suggests that, should she wish; Charter can help her take down Kharche.
A village woman decides to help the duo and drive them to her village, and en route, Stone secretly attaches a tracking device to Keya. However, upon reaching the village, she realizes that it was a trap set by Parker and somehow escapes with her life by jumping off a cliff right into the ocean. Keya witnesses more of the brutal ways Parker’s mercenaries operate, and gradually, doubt about his motives gets planted in her mind. The local agent of Charter, Six of Hearts, rescues Stone, and she relays her gathered information to Nomad. Now that Keya is with her, Parker starts the next stage of her plan: using the heart in a secure mainframe to finish the charter once and for all.
To stay out of reach of Heart, the Hearts team and Nomad shift to a bunker, and using Stone’s tracker, they deduce Parker and Keya have moved to Iceland, at the Reykjavik University computer lab. However, unbeknownst to them, the location is a ruse, as Parker and Keya have set up the mainframe elsewhere. Using Heart’s omnipresent access, Parker kills the King of Diamonds, ex-CIA Nancy Morrison, and her entire family, along with other ‘collaterals.’ Keya is horrified to see the extent of his violence and asks him to stop, to no avail. Stone and the Clubs team, with its leader, Jian Hsu, an ex-Chinese state security officer, arrive at the university to apprehend Parker. Realizing Parker’s destructive agenda, Keya calls Stone to inform him that the location is a decoy, but they are too late as Parker wipes out the club’s team and its king in one fell swoop.
Now targeting the Hearts team, Parker uses Heart (the AI) to lock Nomad, Jack, and all the other members inside the bunker and turn off the ventilation system. Stone informs Nomad about Keya’s revelation and proceeds to give her the coordinates of the actual location of Parker and the Heart’s current mainframe. With time running out, Stone reaches the facility, engages in a final battle with Parker, and, with Keya’s help, manages to kill him. With only moments to spare, the team of hearts gets saved by Stone, and she retrieves the heart control key as well.
Four weeks have passed since the heart-related shenanigans, and respecting his friendship with Bailey, Stone sends her preferred dollhouse to Bailey’s niece. As for Keya, she is spending her days awaiting trial when Stone decides to visit her. She states that Charter has agreed with her proposition to limit and control the access of the heart, seeing its dangerous potential unraveling in full effect, and asks Keya to join Charter as well. Through the course of the movie, a misguided Keya, who hadn’t considered the implications of even ideologically motivated actions, realized her mistakes and gradually had a change of heart; therefore, even though she’s not completely off the hook, she deserves a chance to start over. Heart of Stone ends with Stone being assisted on a mission by two of her techie associates, Jack and Keya, as she prepares to embark on a new adventure.