Directed by Kasper Barfoed, The Numbers Station looks and feels every bit the low-budget thriller that it is. Set almost entirely in an underground bunker, the thriller somehow finds a way to make the setting feel empty and endless rather than claustrophobic. Mixed with what appears to be an extremely low budget and a circumspect screenplay that can’t find a way to make the idea of numbers stations exciting in 2013, The Numbers Station is the kind of straight-to-DVD B-movie that fizzles more than it entertains.
Our protagonist is Emerson (John Cusack), a government assassin with an acute case of conscience sent to Suffolk, England, after failing to murder a young woman (Hannah Murray) who was witness to his latest kill. Emerson’s new assignment is to protect Katherine (Malin Akerman), a cryptographer at a small numbers station used to relay encrypted codes across Western Europe. Haunted by his failure, and the death of the witness, Emerson tries to put the situation behind him, at least until the facility comes under attack by an organized group of terrorists.
When the facility is compromised and the other cryptographer (Lucy Griffiths) and guard (Bryan Dick) are killed, and the remaining terrorists continue to try and burrow their way into the bunker, Emerson is ordered to kill his asset before extraction in four hours. As you would expect, our killer with a newfound respect for life has an issue with that particular assignment.
Disobeying his orders, Emerson continues to keep Katherine alive and uses her expertise to discover the villains have sent out out fifteen coded broadcasts from the numbers station ordering the assassinations of 15 of the company’s best and brightest to cripple the system. With the other cryptographer dead, and no way to send a second set of orders without the cipher, Emerson and Katherine have no way to warn the targets or countermand the orders.
The original breach of the bunker and the death of other guard and cryptographer are revealed to Emerson and Katherine through a series of audio recordings which provide the audience with flashbacks of the attack. The concept works, but Emerson’s obsession with returning to the recordings (even after he’s heard their entire contents) over and over during the film isn’t properly explained (especially as it doesn’t ever reveal any additional information).
The Numbers Station isn’t a bad film, and it even gets me to buy Malin Ackerman as a cryptographer (at least for awhile). The choice to cast Cusack as the assassin unfortunately makes you compare the film to the far superior Grosse Point Blank, although the film is far similiar to the equally disappointing War Inc. The filmmakers start out with a passable idea for a movie about assassins and unbreakable codes but the execution, so to speak, leaves much to be desired.