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The Numbers Station (2013)

Image Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/28/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/24/2013

In the 80s, Tom Hanks made a name for himself by playing loveable (and often goofy) characters in comedies like Splash, Bachelor Party, and Big. Then, in the 90s, he made a turn towards drama, but his career didn't suffer and today, he remains one of the biggest and well-liked stars in Hollywood. John Cusack's career followed a similar path. He appeared in 80s' comedies like Better Off Dead (a true classic) and The Sure Thing, before moving into more dramatic fare. And while Cusack has continued to work steadily over the years, his movies have been decidedly hit or miss and the last few have gone straight to video. So, why did these two popular actors have such divergent results from similar trajectories? I don't know, but if The Numbers Station is any indication, it may have to do with scripts offered and scripts accepted.

Cusack stars in The Numbers Station as Emerson, an American government agent who refuses to kill a teenage girl who witnesses him performing a hit. Because of this, he is demoted and sent to work security at an underground bunker in England. This location serves as a broadcast center where code numbers are sent via shortwave radio to agents in the field. Emerson is assigned to work with Katherine (Malin Akerman), a code expert who performs the broadcast. The job is very mundane, as Emerson simply sits and watching Katherine all day and then drives her home, while another team (Lucy Griffiths and Bryan Dick) takes over. One day, Emerson and Katherine arrive at the site and are immediately ambushed. They flee inside only to find dead bodies and evidence that something decidedly bad has happened. They search for clues as to what occurred and wait for rescue. However, they know that someone is outside waiting for them and wonder if there is another way inside.

The Numbers Station is a pretty by-the-numbers (no pun intended) thriller which doesn't leave much of an impression on the viewer. The screenplay by F. Scott Frazier certainly tries to bring something interesting to the screen, but there are some miscues. To his credit, Frazier, does space out some well-timed twists in the story, which are the only things which keep the movie interesting. The movie plays like a combination of an action-thriller and a mystery, as Emerson and Katherine try to figure out what happened in the bunker. But, there isn't enough emphasis on this. They listen to audio of the incident -- as the security cameras were knocked out -- and wonder why the ambush took place, but they don't seem particularly worried about it. While they were waiting for rescue, deciphering what had happened should have played into their safety. A title card at the beginning of the film attempts to explain the broadcasting of the codes, but it's too vague. I feel that if the audience had a better handle on what is happening in the bunker and what the codes are used for, the movie would have been more interesting. (Or perhaps I'm overthinking that one.) The movie's ending is a real copout, as it simply ends. There's some resolution, but not nearly enough. It simply feels like Frazier quit writing.

Blame must go to Director Kasper Barfoed as well. In short, the pacing here is terrible. This is Barfoed's second thriller, but he clearly doesn't have a handle on the genre. The movie really drags in places, and Barfoed doesn't seem to grasp that when the bulk of a movie takes place in one location (although it does have multiple rooms), you must do things to keep the action going. Speaking of which, he never creates a sense of geography in the bunker, which is no favor to the viewer. This may be nitpicking, but I disagree with the decision to show us a visual representation of what Emerson and Katherine were hearing in the security audio. We should have been left to imagine what the scene looked like.

As for Cusack, his performance here is pretty lackluster. Granted, he's playing a down-and-out agent who hates his assignment, but he never brings any energy to the role. And while this is a serious movie, some of that old Cusack comedic charm would have really helped. Akerman -- who seems to be in every movie or TV show -- is OK, but her character remains very one-dimensional.

The Numbers Station is one of those films where if I were to describe the plot to you, your imagination would fill in some of the gaps and create a much better movie than what we see on-screen. So we are left with a very run-of-the-mill thriller which has a somewhat unique central premise, but takes it nowhere. Having watched this movie and The Factory, I now hope that John Cusack will leap into the arms of the next available comedy.

The Numbers Station wastes a perfectly interesting location on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Image Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a light amount of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and although this is a dark movie, the image is never too dark and the action is always visible. The level of detail is good (we can see every line on Cusack's face) and the depth is adequate. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The mix takes advantage of the claustrophobic setting, treating us to a host of stereo and surround effects, with most of the sounds coming from off-screen. These sounds are detailed at times, and subwoofer really comes to life during the explosions and shootouts.

The lone extra on The Numbers Station Blu-ray Disc is a "Making of" featurette which runs about 14 minutes. This is fairly standard stuff, as it contains comments from Cusack and Akerman, as well as interviews with the creative staff. There is discussion of the story and themes, as well as some on-set footage and notes on shooting certain scenes.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.