The Numbers Station is a low-key action thriller, which features the usual high calibre performance expected from John Cusack.
Numbers Stations were set up during World War II as a way of sending coded messages to agents in the field. These messages are transmitted as a series of spoken numbers by an unknown operator via shortwave radio and then decoded by those who receive them. Cusack plays Emerson Kent, a burnt-out CIA agent sent to look after a Numbers Station, in an underground bunker in Suffolk, England. Kent is teamed with Katherine (Malin Åkerman), the station operator who spends her days reciting numbers, not knowing where (or to whom) they are going. Kent and Katherine discover that the station has been breached and fifteen messages have been sent without authorization. They find themselves trapped, surrounded by an unknown enemy as they try to decode the messages and fight for their lives.
The Numbers Station is an enjoyable one-location thriller with some great tension. Director Kasper Barfoed ratchets-up the claustrophobic paranoia and composer Paul Leonard-Morgan’s score helps pick up the pace and gives the film extra momentum. It’s all slickly presented, with top notch production design and enough sheen to give the film a scope that belies its one setting.
Cusack brings his down-trodden everyman charm to the film, which builds on similar roles in films like Grosse Point Blank and War Inc. Åkerman, isn’t quite so memorable, but she is effective as the civilian who’s in over her head, oblivious to the true extent of the danger she is in.
The Numbers Station’s only flaw is that it lacks a memorable villain with clear motivation. The bad guys here are faceless and nameless thugs. While I’m sure that this was a conscious thematic decision by Barfoed and writer F. Scott Frazier, it doesn’t quite come together. We never quite get to understand the true extent of the threat, beyond what takes place in the bunker.
The Numbers Station is a slick, enjoyable thriller and while it may not break new ground in the genre, this actioner does get enough right to merit your time.
The Numbers Station is released digitally by Content Media on May 27th.