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STUDIO: Image Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
• Behind the Scenes
A former black ops agent is dispatched to a remote numbers station that falls under attack.
Directed by Kasper Barfoed, written by F. Scott Frazier, starring John Cusack, Malin Akerman, and Liam Cunningham.
When he’s not playing creeps in Lee Daniels’ films*, John Cusack has been spending the last two years on the DTV circuit. While the films themselves have been stinkers (The Factory, The Numbers Station, and most recently Frozen Ground), Cusack always manages to elevate them a bit into watchable territory. Out of those three films, he’s probably the best in The Numbers Station because he gets to spend the first half not giving a shit about anything. When the bullets start flying, Cusack puts on his appropriate cold-action face, which also resembles his “not giving a shit face.” The guy is clearly bored doing these DTV films, but at least in The Numbers Station he’s supposed to look spiritless.
Cusack plays damaged CIA black ops agent Emerson Kent. On his last mission, he left behind a young female witness rather than ruthlessly shooting her. His partner was forced to do the dirty work and Kent is found unfit for the field. He’s dispatched to a remote broadcast station in England where he acts as a bodyguard to a code operator named Katherine, played by Malin Ackerman (Watchmen).
In real life, here’s all kinds of conspiracy theories out these about numbers stations, which popped up after World War II to transmit coded messages to agents in the field. Remember the numbers Sayid picked up on the shortwave radio on Lost? Kinda like that but more sketchy because some governments have denied they exist.
So Kent is assigned to watch over Katherine as she performs shifts that last about three days straight. The station they’re in consists of a small room where Katherine receives and sends out code via laptop, a security room where Kent keeps an eye on things, a small room for naps, and several narrow passageways. More of the station is revealed as the film goes on, but unfortunately no solid geography is every established, which makes the locations tough to make sense of once the action starts. The entire setting is lit very dark, making it even more hard to tell what the hell is going on during most chase/shootout scenes. It’s a total waste of what could’ve been an interesting location.
As Katherine does her cypher thing, Kent just sits there, wishing he had a drink. He started boozing heavily after the whole “shooting a young girl” thing, which shows how sensitive he is since he wasn’t even the one who shot her. It seems like his drinking is going to be a problem later on, but the whole alcoholic sub plot never goes anywhere.
One day when they show up for work, the people working the shift before them never meet them outside the station. In CIA operations, any deviation from the strict routine quickly causes alarm. Kent’s training kicks in right on time, as he and Katherine are under fire. After they manage to get inside the station, they’re trapped while unknown assailants drill their way in. It takes a very long time for them to get in, and in the meantime, K & K are trying to figure out what happened to the two agents who never came out. The conspiracy they uncover isn’t very interesting or engaging as it unfurls, so they rely on flashbacks of the other two agents to fill up time.
The only remotely compelling aspect of the film involves orders given to Kent once the station is compromised. He’s faced with the same moral quandary that landed him this quiet desk job in the first place, but after hanging out with Kent for 50 minutes or so, we pretty much know whether he’s going to follow the order or not.
The action is pretty dull and the best sequence happens in the first five minutes of the film, when Kent is still a field agent. It’s a brief, but highly tense sequence in a bar run by an ex-agent. Cusack handles a pistol well and he’s pretty believable as an unassuming field agent. This bar scene impressed me, but it was all downhill from there. There’s nothing that ever really grabs you – no character, action set piece, suspense sequence, nada.
At one point, Katherine suffers a baffling leg injury and rather than worrying about her survival, I was left stupefied over how she got wounded in the first place. I must’ve blinked or something, man. Either way, not even her injury could provide any tension. The most tense area of the film is Cusack’s face. He’s got a fantastic poker face that reveals no emotion whatsoever, which is appropriate in this film. Or maybe he’s just bored? I dunno, but it works.
For a movie about a covert CIA numbers station and an alcoholic agent, The Numbers Station fails to deliver any solid cloak and dagger intrigue or action. Cusack is suitable, although he’s not given much to do. But if you’re in the mood for a DTV thriller starring Cus, this is the best of his recent three.
* he came his pants in The Paperboy and depicts Nixon in The Butler – two total creeps.
The A/V on the disc are stunning, which helps make the film more enjoyable than its content.
BEHIND THE SCENES: this brief feature contains interviews with cast and crew. Cusack looks and sounds incredibly unenthusiastic about everything.
For Cusack’s performance and the crisp presentation, I’m gonna give this one a…