The Numbers Station Review
Apparently, the CIA uses "numbers stations" to pass information to the right people. Important information will be re-written in some kind of code made out of numbers, and passed to important people in need of that information. These numbers are passed by transmissions, which are normally read by women. A retired CIA assassin goes to work at one of these hidden numbers stations and the station itself gets attacked by bad guys. The ex-assassin must then protect the codes and the woman who translates them.
This may sound like an idea which has potential to be really cool. That was my exact thought while sitting down on my Netflix account tonight. As I watched the movie though, it ended up being not as cool as I hoped.
The idea as I said is neat, but the filmmakers behind this project fill their story with cliches and predictable plot lines. John Cusack plays Emerson, a CIA-assassin who is (wink, wink) haunted by his past. Which is the main reason that pushes his decision to look after a numbers station for the CIA. Emerson is accompanied by Katherine (Malin Ackerman) the new translator for the particular station. The station is eventually attacked by a group of bad guys. I call them bad guys because we never learn a lot about the villains of this movie. We don't know if they work for a criminal syndicate or a terrorist cell. All the audience will ever learn is that they come from "the other side," wow that's descriptive. I found it incredibly disappointing to learn so little about the films villains. They just come off as a convenient plot device to make this movie more interesting.
As the attack ensues at the station, Emerson calls a CIA operator to request assistance and the operator tells him that help will come soon. However, Emerson is told that because the codes have been compromised, Emerson will have to kill Katherine. Which, you guessed it, Emerson decides not to do. Yep, saw that coming, the old heartless killer befriends the code operator and his haunted past helps the assassin grow a moral compass. Look, I am not saying that Katherine deserved to die, but the audience will see that coming a mile away. Everything is fairly predictable in this movie. There is even a moment near the end of the film where I felt the filmmakers wanted to throw a curve ball at the audience, but if you have been paying attention you can see it coming. Because that final curve ball is so predictable, it ends up reeking of desperation.
I am for the most part disappointed by the film. There is a cool idea at the heart of this thing, and this could have been a smart, action spy thriller in the vein of "The Bourne Identity" but what "The Numbers Station" eventually accumulates too is a big moral conversation between two good actors.
Okay, so its not all bad. The work by John Cusack and Malin Ackerman are great, and make everything in this movie at least watchable. And the bad guys send out recorded messages from their previous attack on the station, (the bad guys attacked this station twice when a different group of translators was at the station before Emerson and Katherine, why the bad guys do this makes no sense.) these messages are seen through flashbacks and they make for tense moments. But these moments feel random and ultimately from a different movie.
So far "The Numbers Station" is the biggest "coulda, woulda, shoulda" movie of 2013. That's just too bad all around. This idea screams to be redone again in the hands of superior filmmakers.
FINAL GRADE: C-