John Cusack continues his fascination with CIA hitmen with this thriller, one that has a small cast, primarily Cusack and Malin Akerman. Cusack plays Emerson Kent, a soul sick assassin suffering guilt over the killing of a young girl. After a hit goes wrong, Emerson has to track down a witness and get rid of him. Unfortunately, the witness has a daughter that must be dealt with, as well. Unable to come to terms with his actions, Emerson turns to the bottle and gets removed from the field.
With his line of work, Emerson’s options are limited. He either continues with the company or he loses his life; the CIA doesn’t like loose ends. After a year of therapy and finally sober (so he says), Emerson gets assigned to a numbers station.
A numbers station is a secret short wave radio station used to send out numeric codes to field agents like Emerson. These black ops soldiers receive random numbers, decode them, and then fulfill their assignment. In an age of telecommunications snafus, it seems that the only secure way for governments to secretly kill a dignitary or bomb an embassy is to communicate through a numbers station.
Emerson is assigned to protect Katherine (Akerman), a book smart woman who has no clue that she’s actually involved with nefarious government plots. As far as she knows she’s sending out coordinates for troop movements. These two strangers work long shifts together, Emerson patrolling the inside of the numbers station and Katherine sealed inside the broadcast booth. At the end of their shifts they are by another numbers statin team. It’s very mundane.
Things go awry one Monday morning when Emerson and Katherine return from their weekend and are waiting for their counterparts to exit the remote numbers station. Suddenly they’re under fire from an unseen sniper. Their only means of safety is to enter the numbers station and seal themselves inside.
Trapped (there’s also a gunman inside the building), Emerson and Katherine must figure out what the hell happened, who’s behind it the attack on them, and most important, how will they survive.
The Numbers Station is a low budget indie that makes the most of its money. Because 90% of the story is just the two main characters isolated in the numbers station, the producers were able to spend the extra cash on two well-known actors. The script is tightly written with virtually no fat. At just under 90 minutes, the movie moves at a rapid pace and keeps the screws turned tight. There’s a lot of technical dialogue that goes on and espionage exposition that Cusack explains to Akerman. However, the information comes out naturally and doesn’t fell forced.
The actors are great, too. Let’s face it, Cusack could have gone through the motions in making the movie, but he delivers a nice performance. Akerman is a pleasant surprise. Known primarily for lighter, comedic roles, she does the drama well. Thanks to comedic background, she also manages to make some of the forced one-liners work.
The Numbers Station was directed by Danish film maker Kasper Barfoed. I’ve never seen any of his previous works, but he did a good job of creating tension and a paranoid mood for the entire film. The Blu-ray doesn’t offer many special features, just a making of featurette, but the slick style of the film definitely looks lovely in HD.