The Numbers Station – Movie Review

John Cusack is back in a ferocious spy role updated to the information universe. Look out.

Heaven help us all, but after seeing John Cusack in “Grosse Pointe Blank” he was our favorite spy. There is something smarmy about Cusack. It could be those beady eyes, that dark complexion. He always has a chip on his shoulder and is frustrated in trying to get somebody to knock it off. In this film screenwriter F. Scott Frazier has provided a nice bunch of assassins for a pace paced, stripped down, mano-a-mano slug fest.

The film is lean and mean, with no car chases or gratuitous explosions or motorcycle madness. It is set in cold war information bunkers, the ultimate defense against commie, or some other dreadful, ill-defined nightmarish, assault.

The set allows director Kasper Barfoed to concentrate on the actors and the action. The bare cement walls provide the appropriate ricochet surfaces for the gunshots but still force the viewer to concentrate on the wheels in motion inside Emerson’s (John Cusack) head.

The incredibly high security information bunker has been compromised by a hyper genius rogue information expert who seems to hold all the cards. In this game of death against Emerson and his able partner and cyber expert Katherine (Malin Akerman), the intruder has much more information than he should. Is this an inside job/ is this a test for Emerson, or a set-up to take advantage of his perceived weaknesses?

Katherine is as smart as she is sexy, and her smartness is definitely measured in the petaflop range. But can she make up for this temporary break-down that seems to be sapping her partner’s strength. Most importantly, will the two have sex in the bunker?

The problem is that Emerson has shown himself to be lacking in the cojones area, at least in the estimation of his cold as ice superior Grey (Liam Cunningham). Everything was going fine in the assassination department until Emerson inexplicably grew a conscious when he was supposed to shoot a little girl.

Failing that simple task, Emerson was given this desk job assignment as his last chance to show he still has the right stuff. So it’s do or die. If you believe that set-up, you will believe anything.

But who cares? It is on to the mano-a-mano skull-duggery, the fountain pen to the jugular gamesmanship as we and Emerson try to figure out who has set up who in this unholy triangle of Katherine, Emerson and the madman set to end the world.

In his English language debut, Danish director Kasper Barfoed has shown a great grasp of pacing and tension. The indie aficionados in the crowd will love the minimalist set that respects the actors and sheds a grey, mechanistic light on the modern world, at the same time. The underground intelligence center is not just an information hub; it is the brain from which all orders emerge. It has absolute power and its absolute power threatens to corrupt, absolutely, all who become one with it.

The screenplay is not just about the war on terror, it is about Emerson’s war about himself. With every bullet he fires at the invader, his eyes show he is questioning whether or not he has done the right thing.

His experience with the failed assassination was a wakeup call and he, and we, are not sure whether he will wake up on the same side of the fence. If he does not, what becomes of the sexy genius Katherine who we cannot believe he has not developed feelings for?

Lightweight compared to “Grosse Point,” “Numbers” is just another notch in the pistol of the hysterically successful Cusack as he churns out films. However, it is a good start for director Barfoed is his experiments with the Gotham-like world of Tweets and information overload. If his next film is as good as this, only with about double the plot, and actors as good as Cusack and Akerman, look out.

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Directed by: Kasper Barfoed
Written by: F. Scott Frazier
Starring: Malin Akerman, John Cusack, Hannah Murray
Release Date: April 16, 2013
MPAA: Rated R for violence and language
Run Time: 89 Minutes
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color