The Numbers Station (2013) a (mildly) belated review

I like actor John Cusack.  He’s been in a number of very good films but even when the film isn’t all that good -given the amount of movies he’s been involved in during his very long career, there were bound to be clunkers here and there- he always seems to rise above and rarely fails to give an engaging performance.

So when I spotted The Numbers Station, a 2013 film starring Mr. Cusack on instant view on Netflix, I decided to give it a whirl.  I knew little about the film other than it never reached theaters and, because of this, I didn’t expect all that much.  Was I in for some major disappointment?

Not really.

To begin with, The Numbers Station is a very low budget thriller.  There are maybe fifteen people in total during the film’s runtime that appear on screen.  Other than a single exploding car, there are no other “big” special effects.

The movie’s premise is that in this age of easy access to computer data, top secret black ops units employ short radio bursts composed of nothing more than a series of numbers (the codes) to get their next assignments.

These assignments are, it is implied, “dirty” works that usually involve assassination.

At the start of the film we meet Emerson Kent (John Cusack) and Grey (Liam Cunningham).  They sit in a car talking to each other when a coded message arrives.  After deciphering it, Kent temporarily leaves his partner (and getaway driver) and walks into a sparsely populated bar.  He chats with the bartender, who we find once worked for the agency but ran away from it several months before.  Kent allows the man to have one last drink before killing him.  Kent then takes out the two bouncers/bodyguards but cannot kill the fourth man in the bar.  This man manages to get away, but Kent has the license plate numbers of his car.

Thanks to this information, Kent and Grey locate the man’s home.  Kent goes into the house and kills the man.  He is then surprised when his teenage daughter appears.  Kent cannot get himself to kill her and his partner Grey winds up doing this.  Thanks to this “botched” job, Kent is no longer viewed as having the “right stuff” for his special ops unit.

Fast forward a few months and we find Grey has moved up in the agency while Kent is on the outside trying to get back in.  Thanks to Grey, he is given a second chance, only Instead of being offered his old assassination job, he’s assigned to watch over the other end of the numbers operation.  He is to be the security guard to Katherine (Malin Akerman), one of the agency’s code readers.  Katherine makes and sends out the numbers from a secure bunker while Kent guards her.  When their shift is over, another duo (also woman and man) replacements them.  It is clear this duo is a couple and equally clear Katherine is trying to socialize with Kent, though he wants nothing to do with this.

The second day of their shift all appears normal, but they soon find that the bunker has been breached and there are signs that the duo that preceded them may have met a grisly end.  Trapped inside the bunker, they have to find a way out while determining if a phony assassination order was sent by their predecessors.

Ok, so there you have the setup and, yes, once again we’re dealing with a “siege” type film.  There are other interesting elements thrown in but before you get your hopes up too high, let me say this:  The Numbers Station is hardly a “must see” film.  What it is is a modest thriller that painlessly killed a couple of hours without making you feel like you completely wasted your time.

There are two things that work against the film and, of those, the low budget is the biggest and worst element.  Without giving too much away, we have our two leads being held in the bunker by a decidedly small –very small- force on the outside.  It’s hard to get worried about their prospects of survival when facing such an ultimately insignificant force.  The second thing working against the film is that Katherine is a really underwritten character.  While Malin Ackerman does a decent job playing the character, there is very little to her other than a damsel in distress.

Still, if you’re like me and have a bit of time to kill, you could do worse than catch The Numbers Station.