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The Numbers Station

2013 | 89 min | R | 2.39:1

The Numbers Station


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Theatrical release date

 26 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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Screenshots from The Numbers Station Blu-ray

The Numbers Station Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 25, 2013

“The Numbers Station” earns points for being a somewhat original take on the bunker thriller subgenre, using a spy vs. spy world of codes and assassination attempts to beef up an otherwise simplistic siege story. While not a terribly convincing picture, “The Numbers Station” has a few moments of workable suspense and puzzle solving, while star John Cusack supplies an appealing restless energy to the effort, strengthening scenes that would otherwise die on the vine. Strictly for fans of the stars and perhaps those with an insatiable curiosity about career low points, the feature is certainly digestible, but rarely memorable.

A fried black ops agent, Emerson (John Cusack) is unraveling from an incident with an innocent bystander during an assassination job that went south, forced to deal with the cruel reality of his work. Handed a chance to collect himself by boss Michael (Liam Cunningham), Emerson is sent to a numbers station in rural England to act as protection for brilliant code-breaker Katherine (Malin Akerman). Entrusted with a complicated network of numbers that’s been in place for decades, Katherine sends coded messages and orders to agents around the world, working a system that’s designed to succeed where computers fail. While enduring a banal job of supervision, Emerson remains alert, striking up a bond with Katherine as the duo work together inside an elaborate bunker. When their routine is shattered one evening by a sniper attack, the pair learns they’ve been targeted by a group of rogue agents out to message 15 codes of chaos. Barricading themselves inside the complex, Emerson and Katharine work to deduce such malevolent intent, using skills with violence and numeric puzzles to comprehend the larger threat facing them both.

“The Numbers Stations” is low-budget entertainment, eschewing a grand blueprint of European intrigue to take place inside a secret C.I.A. bunker established to protect the code-breakers and secure their daily business of broadcasting. The location keeps director Kasper Barfoed contained to dimly-lit hallways and glowing green computer screens, without much change in scenery, only breaking outside the compound for a few gunfights and to establish the working relationship shared between Katharine and Emerson, with the agent chauffeuring his mastermind to and from a nearby train station. The lack of expanse is easy on the budget, but it makes “The Numbers Station” feel smaller than it should, holding to a pattern of conflict and rest as the characters struggle to figure out the danger they’re in. Visually, it’s not the most exciting feature to study, though Barfoed attempts to vary the view with bursts of keyboard-clicking code-smashing and gunplay, sweating to drum up some excitement during a movie that’s primarily about two people locked in a dungeon facing a persistent outside invasion -- a “Panic Room” without the directorial wizardry.

It’s a crisis of conscience that eases the film’s predictability, observing Emerson ordered to kill Katherine by his superiors once the siege is reported, tasked with destroying an innocent woman who’s been exposed to national secrets. Though tension is quickly popped by a few twists in the script, the sting of professional responsibility vs. Emerson’s wounded appreciation of duty (unable to drown his sins in booze) generates an interesting complication that supports the primary midsection of “The Numbers Station.” Also compelling is the nature of the code-breaking, a decidedly antiquated process that’s valuable to a technologically vulnerable nation, delving into heated deductions of enigmatic plans, with scenes of furious typing and assorted acts of puzzling helping to move the picture along, delivering reliable spurts of screen activity.

“The Numbers Station” looks to complicate itself with the master plan of the invaders, who’ve left behind an audio trail for Emerson and Katherine to follow, listening in as the ghouls harass the bunker’s evening staff. The third act doesn’t pay off the escalation of intimidation, instead working tired forays into explosions and confrontations that lack a true villainous snap. It’s hardly offensive material, but “The Numbers Station” eventually gives up trying to dazzle its audience, unable to work over an unusual premise and an intimate setting to satisfaction, leaving behind a picture with a few passable scenes that could’ve been so much more.

Starring: Malin Akerman, John Cusack, Liam Cunningham, Lucy Griffiths, Bryan Dick, Richard Brake
Director: Kasper Barfoed

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