Kasper Barfoed’s The Numbers Station is John Cusack’s latest failed attempt at becoming an action star. The film’s main plot is a complicated mess, while the underlying character work proves to be semi-interesting thanks to Cusack and co-star Malin Akerman. Still, The Numbers Station rarely stretches past straight-to-DVD material due to its obvious budgetary restraints and inability to deliver a character arc that we haven’t seen done a million times before. Cusack tries and tries, but ultimately nothing adds up as the film slips into mediocrity.
Emerson (John Cusack) is a former black ops soldier turned glorified security guard for a top secret numbers base. His coworker Katherine (Malin Akerman) is in charge of sending a secret batch of coded numbers to various agents in the field and it’s Emerson’s job to make sure that the codes get sent and that the base is protected at all times.
The two share small talk, but Emerson is mostly a reclusive ghost ever since an incident occurred that landed him this quiet desk job. He’s damaged goods, but he’s trying to reconnect back into the real world by establishing a normal and healthy relationship with Katherine.
That all goes up in smoke as they arrive to work and suddenly start getting attacked. They retreat to the bunker and soon realize that it might have been safer outside. The more Emerson and Katherine uncover; the more Emerson has difficulty separating himself from doing what’s right morally compared to what’s right for the mission.
Can this burnt out agent find it in his heart to protect this lady or will he finally snap and become the soulless gun-for-hire that he’s been fearing almost all of his life?
The Numbers Station is an interesting low-budget thriller. It not once tries to over-complicate things with too much action or plot. It’s actually rather small, taking place mostly in one isolated area, which allows for director Kasper Barfoed to lock in on his two leads: John Cusack and Malin Akerman.
Together, they escalate what could have been a horrible straight-to-DVD film to something a little more tolerable. The Numbers Station still suffers from its budget and lack of ideas, but it’s much more watchable thanks to Cusack and Akerman.
Cusack’s channeling the typical burnt out agent of destruction. He’s lived a life full of stone cold killing and suddenly he’s questioning every single decision that he’s made up until this point. He’s grown a conscience in the one business that does not require one. This gives the character much-needed depth and a sense of well-rounded attributes, but unfortunately Mr. Cusack does nothing but mope around. He follows the how-to guide when it comes to creating a character that wants and needs change and by doing so he gives a good performance, but one that’s completely voided of anything fresh or new.
Akerman fairs a little better as the clueless agent that just wants to help her country. She’s not nearly as detailed as Cusack, but that allows for her character to be an understandable change for Emerson. You only see her good sides and not much of anything else, which makes her an easy driving force for the film, but a shallow one as well.
The rest of The Numbers Station is your average thriller. Agents get attacked by faceless thugs and Cusack simply reacts by shooting them or beating the living shit out of them. Practical blood is mostly used, which is a surprising plus, but there’s no edge-of-your-seat thrills. The film follows a formula that many have followed before and that makes for one tired character study that doesn’t seem to know when exactly to end.
The film was shot digitally, yet it looks like a film presentation. Colors remain dark and unaffected by unnecessary noise or pixelation. Skin tones are full of texture and depth, while gunfire and explosions brighten up the screen.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track fits the bill too. Dialogue is focused on the main channels, while action and the musical score come locked and loaded on the rear channels. The track doesn’t spend too much time mixing the elements of the film, but it’s a well-balanced experience that should deliver more than enough excitement for the evening.
The film comes with one lonely bonus feature:
- The Making of The Numbers Station (HD): 15 long minutes of Cusack, Akerman and various other crew members discussing the ideas of the film, working together and filming something this “unique” on an independent scale. A repetitive watch that doesn’t shed too much light on anything new.
It’s really difficult to come down too hard on a film like The Numbers Station, because of its intentions and because of its restrictions. If this were a studio affair I’d imagine the focus would have been shifted more on the action and less on the characters. That could have made the film more entertaining, while also rendering it dumb and pointless. What we’re stuck with is a character study between two characters that aren’t all that interesting in the first place. It’s difficult to become attached to something that is so detached from almost any emotion.
The Numbers Station excels in certain areas thanks to its leading cast, but it also fails to overcome its budget and story. It’s a Redbox rental and nothing more. The lack of real bonus material only helps that statement become truer, even if the video and audio presentations are much stronger than the film’s overall quality. John Cusack fans might want to add this to their Netflix queue, while everyone else should quickly forget that this film exists.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.