The Numbers Station is a surprisingly tight and challenging film, with unique characters and John Cusack in one of his most effective roles. This is another film that was not given its due. In fact, you should consider yourself robbed if you are a fan of John Cusack and thoughtful action flicks.
Here’s a trailer that makes the flick look more ‘shoot-em-up’ than it is. It’s got more human drama than most actioners:
Released April 26, 2013
Written by F. Scott Frazier
Directed by Kasper Barfoed
Starring Malin Ackerman, Lucy Griffiths, John Cusack, Bryan Dick, Liam Cunningham, and Richard Brake
* * * * *
Emerson Kent (Cusack) has been a wetwork agent for the CIA for as long as he cares to remember. During one operation, a witness sees him execute a mark and escapes, so Kent and his handler, Gray (Cunningham), have to hunt down the witness and tie up the loose end.
But in cleaning up the mess, Kent has an attack of conscience and a breakdown, so he is given one last chance to not be a mess that needs cleaning up. He is assigned to a Numbers Station, which is a secret fortress where code analysts receive and broadcast orders through code to agents all over the world. Kent is put in charge of security for Katherine (Ackerman), who fills half of the shifts at the station. The other team is made up of David (Dick) and Meredith (Griffiths), with David acting as Meredith’s security. These two are also in a relationship.
One day, Kent and Katherine show up and everything goes to pot. The station comes under attack and Kent has to follow protocol and secure the station and the code. Now he has to decide if he is willing to do what protocol requires to secure the code, while at the same time he has to find out just how human he is and how far he is willing to go to remain true to what he knows is right.
Meanwhile, Katherine realizes just what it is the attackers are trying to do in taking over the station, so she determines that she has to stop the coded message that they were able to send out.
Thus, Katherine and Kent have to use surveillance audio files, their wits, and their grit to piece together what is going on and try to stay alive, while also doing what they can to keep the world from descending into chaos.
The Numbers Station provides characters who are in no way larger than life and who make lame jokes and who live and talk just like regular people. Pain slows them down, as do remorse and uncertainty.
And that is one of the main reasons that this movie is actually a pleasure. Ackerman portrays, particularly well, a woman who never thought she would be in such a dangerous, tense situation and who was simply doing a job that paid well. Cusack plays the guarded, cynical, somewhat imbalanced agent very well and unself-consciously.
It also helps that the film takes place in a fairly cramped setting, heightening the tension and adding to the conflict. With what amounts to a ticking clock (the attackers are drilling through the armored door and Kent and Katherine have to decode a message in time to save a bunch of world leaders), some unexpected character issues for Kent, and no silly romantic entanglements, this is a fairly crisp, involving thriller.
A few things make the film not as good as it might have been. Too much shaky-cam, at times too-dim lighting, and a villain who was not as convincing as the film needed. What’s more, we never fully understand why the villains entered the station, did their code thing, and then departed, leaving only one operative inside. This is a plot convenience thing that weakens the story somewhat.
However, all-in-all, The Numbers Station is worth a rent. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but is very engaging and satisfying with solid performances all around.
Content warnings: Salty language and moments of violence.
Writing: 3.5 Acting: 4 Overall: 3.5
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