Thursday 25 February 2021

Movie Review: The Numbers Station (2013)

A dramatic siege thriller, The Numbers Station leans on a decent cast and a single labyrinthine set but is undone by stereotypes and a flimsy plot. 

Jaded CIA assassin Emerson Kent (John Cusack) is losing the cold blooded ability to kill innocent witnesses. His boss Michael Grey (Liam Cunningham) reassigns him to an out-of-the-way job in Suffolk, England to protect a remote "numbers station", a secret facility broadcasting coded shortwave instructions to field agents, an old-fashioned but impenetrable communications system.

The job entails long 70 hour shifts inside the secured station, with only civilian broadcaster Katherine (Malin Åkerman) for company. After two months of tedium Emerson and Katherine arrive for their shift and find the station compromised, mysterious killers having infiltrated the facility for nefarious purposes. Awaiting rescue, Emerson and Katherine have to stay alive and find a way to block the unfolding conspiracy. 

Featuring some similarities with 2012's Safe House, The Numbers Station has enough quality to rise above straight-to-DVD fare, but it's a fine margin. A modest sense of claustrophobic space is created at the remote setting, and the spooky cyphers, both spoken and flashed on the screen, generate as much intrigue as can be expected from random numbers. In an easy role John Cusack lends basic star power with the expected level of internal dissidence to round Emerson into another iteration of an assassin developing a conscience and crawling into a bottle.

Malin Åkerman suffers frequent blood loss and Liam Cunningham oozes cold blooded aloofness, but otherwise they are both under-used. Danish director Kasper Barfoed busies himself exploring the various rooms and hallways of the secret facility, discovering a potentially suitable locale for a dark and moody shredding of a killer's soul. But terrible trouble resides in F. Scott Frazier's elemental script, with neither the overall conspiracy nor the details properly developed or explained, leaving gaping logic holes to swallow the basic dialogue exchanges and muddled action scenes.

The intruders are smart enough to infiltrate the station then dumb enough to find themselves on the outside looking to get back in. They have the resources to compromise a secret CIA operation (including the support network) but send a grand total of three goons to do the dirty work. Even Emerson suffers infuriating brain fades, including leaving the door wide open to facilitate bad guy re-entry. And whatever seditious objectives are behind the facility invasion, they are not worthy of explanation, denying the film any sense of importance or tension.

Despite a few flashes of artistry, The Numbers Station resorts to painting by numbers.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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