John Cusack really wants the codebreaking suspense of The Numbers Station to work, but things never totally come together....
Image / 89 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: May 28, 2013
There’s a cryptic, unpredictable thriller somewhere within the machine of The Numbers Station, but Kasper Barfoed’s movie never quite rises to its own levels of potential. It’s the kind of international espionage flick that connects the dots well enough to provide an escapist narrative diversion, but even though John Cusack gives it his all, the film ends up feeling cobbled together and disappointingly inconsequential – it can be exciting, but it’s also the kind of picture you can nap through and not miss much.
In the film, Cusack plays Emerson Kent, a government agent who specializes in information so top-secret that it must remain confidential – case closed. The numbers stations that the film’s title refers to hearken back to WWII coded info – the radio signals that these institutions blurted out were short-lived and constantly changing in an attempt to keep any code-cracking enemies constantly at bay.
But keeping the veil over the classified material at hand in The Numbers Station proves to be more difficult than Kent originally thought, and while he finds a mastermind of an encoder in a lady named Katherine (Malin Akerman) who is able to broadcast his imperative info (she can code it but never know exactly what she’s coding), his adventures rapidly turn dangerously complicated: suddenly, solving word puzzles becomes the least of Kent’s worries.
While there’s a historical bent that serves the film well, The Numbers Station feels overly fussy and convoluted: simply stated, it should be better than it is. But this writer will hold a torch for John Cusack as long as it takes – give the man a chance at an Oscar, Hollywood! – and even if The Numbers Station will go down in movie history as a non-presence, as brainless adventure fodder, it’s not entirely without its charms.