The Numbers Station (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Kasper Barfoed and starring John Cusack, Malin Akerman, Hannah Murray, Liam Cunningham, Lucy Griffiths, Bryan Dick, Richard Brake, and Joey Ansah.
The title of a movie is important. It puts a foot in the door, draws attention, and is one of the first lines of offense when selling a movie. With a title like The Numbers Station, one is left wondering what exactly to expect. I mean, what is a “numbers station” anyways? This of course was deliberate and although the title was stupid (like seriously, what the heck is a numbers station?), it was fitting, because everything else about this film felt just as forced. In Hollywood this is often the nature of the beast, but when a movie feels unnatural from its onset it isn’t a good sign. When the final product has a slipshod plot and features an un-compelling mess of emotional redemption, all fears are confirmed.
Basically, a numbers station (I know you are wondering), is a place where special codes are sent out by master codesmiths (or whatever you want to call them) to field agents for the CIA. These are highly sensitive messages that can only be handled by a limited number of people, and a new cipher is used each time in order for maximum security. This was a bit ridiculous, but even a good film can get away with a little suspension of disbelief (would Rose ever really have gone for a vagrant like Jack?).
Emerson Kent (John Cusack) was assigned to this aforementioned numbers station for security detail after fumbling up during another assignment. After being ordered to assassinate a man, and then being unable to kill his daughter who witnessed the murder, Kent was disgraced and given boring field work in a remote location in Suffolk, England. Your white knight everybody — since he couldn’t kill a child (but has no problem killing adults), the audience was implored to appreciate his humanity and instead turn our perspective against the cold government organization that he worked for. Not only was this heavy handed but it was a lazy way to move along the story and the movie paid for it. When you base a character’s emotional transformation on such a weak event, there is not a large enough cache of sympathy for us to really care. If the person he had spared were some special girl that the audience had already developed feelings for then maybe. Here it was too random and it happened before the viewer really had any idea what was supposed to be going on. Although not the fatal flaw of the film, this segment certainly helped to deflate it before it could get off the ground.
The code-giver person (Malin Ackerman) was out of place as a leading lady and Cusack actually carried her quite deftly. The chemistry between them was forced but he made it work. I also think it was a smart move to keep the story limited to these two characters. With such a weak plot, it was important to focus on fleshing them out in order to give some sort of life to the movie.
This movie was at its best (unfortunately this was rare occurrence) during the periods where it played as sort of a psychological thriller, almost creepy like a horror movie. It benefited from good camerawork and the viewer got these dark pockets that at least drew interest even if the payoff was weak. Overall the suspense was just not rich enough, even on a cheesy sort of shock level, to achieve success. In addition, many of the action scenes in The Numbers Station weren’t particularly exciting (there were some mini, halfhearted shootouts and a few explosions). Normally, this would be the kind of thing that might save a meandering movie like The Numbers Station. Instead the film just sort of limped along in short bursts, like the last few minutes in the life of a bug that had just been stepped on.
Overall The Numbers Station was pretty forgettable. Even huge John Cusack fans (I know you’re out there) probably aren’t clamoring to rent this movie. There are many other similar options that have been done better (maybe one of the more recent Bond films) and you would be better off seeing one of those.