The Numbers Station was directed by Kasper Barfoed (Summer of ’92, The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar), written by F. Scott Frazier (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Collide), and stars John Cusack (Pursuit, Identity), Malin Akerman (The Final Girls, The Sleepover), Richard Brake (Offseason, Bingo Hell), Finbar Lynch (Child 44, The World We Knew), Joey Ansah (The Kid Who Would Be King, Alien Uprising) and Liam Cunningham (Clash of the Titans, The Vault). It is about a burnt-out CIA agent who is sent to a broadcast station to protect it and the operator against a sinister plan.
The Plot: Plotting is fairly mundane in the grand scheme, but does well enough to entertain via the setting and villains’ plans. CIA agents Emerson (Cusack) and Grey (Cunningham) are tasked with killing a man who was also an agent. A witness leaves and the agents pursue, Emerson is unable to kill the daughter of the witness, and because of this, is sent to watch over a numbers station in England. He befriends the operator, Katherine (Akerman), and after a couple of months together they are attacked by assassins Max (Brake), Derne (Ansah), and Michaels (Lynch); and must protect each other and the station.
The Characters: The Numbers Station’s characters are nothing too special, but again, have some good aspects to them. Emerson is a lifelong agent, doing whatever needs to be done without putting too much thought into the reasoning behind it; an ‘orders are orders’ kinda guy until the man he was sent to kill bothers asking “why?”, which causes Emerson’s crisis. Other than that he has a hard time talking to people or feeling any sort of compassion, making him detached from just about everyone except Katherine.
Katherine herself is more outgoing and able to communicate well with others, hence the profession, and is always looking for a solution in her situation, despite the odds. The assassins are really nothing to write home about in terms of personality, given that Max is the only one to get one; but their plan to wipe the CIA’s directors out with numbers is pretty cool. Performances are good, finding Cusack doing well with his brooding and blunt nature, and Akerman energetic and plucky enough to be a good foil.
The Thrills: Thrills are modest and The Numbers Station delivers them at below-average rates. The initial attack on Emerson and Katherine is substandard in execution and thoroughly predictable, having some shootouts, an explosion, and an entrance into chaos for the main characters. Also hindering the tension throughout is the placement of the hostiles; for most of the time, the assassins are stuck outside the station, (which is encased in metal and locked tight) allowing for Emerson and Katherine to sit down and ruminate for extended periods.
Since The Numbers Station’s script doesn’t tap into the psychological aspect present with Emerson, the pondering does not do much overall. The most effective set of thrills is the whereabouts of the cancellation codes to the orders the baddies sent out, and the possibility that even if the heroes do find them, their effort may just be for naught.
The Technics: Technically The Numbers Station is passable, with the bunker being dimly lit and fairly close-quarters which helps to tighten the screws of the script and hold it together with a cramped atmosphere. Colour grading aids in that process, muting the colour inside the station in all places except in the coloured lighting inside the base and the nature surrounding it.
Some of the dialogue is clumsy, with the characters holding the hand of the audience and consistently reiterating established points by replaying audio files and repeating lines about things they both know. While The Numbers Station’s pacing can occasionally dawdle and some fat adds 5 minutes that could be cut, the direction and the cinematography mostly distract from these issues.
While never white-knuckled like I wanted to be, I was entertained enough by the Numbers Station thanks to the interesting plan the villains had and the strong performances from Cusack and Akerman. The movie is fine, if not that memorable, and skirts by just enough to pass the time.
The Numbers Station is available on Blu-ray and DVD as well as Digital platforms from RLJE Films. If it isn’t quite what you’re looking for, FilmTagger can suggest some similar films.