Numbers Station, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a look at the recent thriller starring John Cusack...
After his latest mission goes disastrously wrong, veteran CIA black ops agent Emerson Kent (John Cusack) is given one last chance to prove he still has what it takes to do his job. His new assignment: guarding Katherine (Malin Akerman), a code operator at a top-secret remote CIA "Numbers Station" where encrypted messages are sent and received. When an elite team of heavily armed assailants lays siege to the station, Emerson and Katherine suddenly find themselves in a life-or-death struggle against an unknown enemy. With the station compromised and innocent lives at stake, they must stop the deadly plot before it's too late. (From the RLJ Entertainment synopsis)
The Numbers Station is the kind of movie I dread writing a review of because it doesn't elicit any strong feelings from me. It isn't good, and it isn't especially awful. It is competently put together but everything in it feels totally derivative. It's just there. I'm bound to have more joy watching a film that goes all out and fails spectacularly. The concept of numbers stations is an interesting one, but it is put to very poor use. For those that don't know, numbers stations are locations where unusual broadcasts are sent out. They are believed to be tied to spies and CIA, used for sending out encoded messages to give out orders. Their whole existence and purpose is shrouded in conspiracy and fun to theorize about. It seems like something a movie could put to good use, but not this one.
Instead of going down the path of a conspiracy thriller, this story places our two leads inside of a numbers station doing their job. They spend the entire midsection of the movie inside of secure rooms while signs of threat encroach on them through outside transmission. We're occasionally shown footage of things happening in other parts of the station, but the danger never feels immediate or remotely threatening. Most of the time we just hear bad things happening. This technique worked very well in the 2008 film Pontypool, creating a helpless and sometimes very claustrophobic setting in a radio station while the outside world was ravaged by a virus. In The Numbers Station it isn't creepy or intense, it's just achingly dull. A good deal of the time is spent trying to build characters with banal exchanges. They psychoanalyze each other. Katherine jokes about how serious Kent is. The only time their relationship gets interesting is when Kent receives instructions to kill her, but even this portion of the plot feels totally lacking in tension.
For all my whining, there is one thing I did like about the movie. John Cusack's performance works. He's not given much to do, but Cusack's usual somber mannerisms that make him wrong for some movie roles work quite well for a disillusioned CIA black ops agent. He always seems lost in his head, and he probably is. It's a fit that I did not expect. Malin Akerman's performance is all over the place. She can handle the small talk and scenes where she is wounded just fine, but once voices get elevated her performance just doesn't feel natural. Liam Cunningham (best known for his role as Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones) gets some screen time in the beginning and end of the film. He isn't in it much, but he is one of the movie's greatest assets. I'd like to see an alternate version of the film where he and John Cusack switched roles.
The Numbers Station was shot on the Arri Alexa, which is quickly becoming the go-to digital camera over the Red One. When you watch a film as gorgeous as Skyfall it is easy to see why. This film feels like it could've been shot on any digital camera because of the amount of post processing effects used. The picture is drained of saturated colors and has a rough grainy look. Its kind of like the look Spielberg goes for in his sci-fi films, but far more artificial in appearance. Ugly visual choices aside, the picture on this blu-ray looks good. I didn't notice any signs of compression artefacts. Black levels are great, which is a plus for a movie that takes place mostly inside of an industrial building. The few colors that exist look fine. I noticed what appears to be some horizontal stretching in a lot of shots. It is very slight. Enough so that I feel like maybe I'm seeing things. It looks almost as if some shots were filmed in the wrong aspect ratio and were later stretched instead of zooming in on the image. It's weird, but its rare enough to not be a major hurdle.
This blu-ray comes with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This is a thriller without much thrills, so a good portion of the runtime is just the leads talking in dark rooms. As expected with just dialogue, its kept front and center, and the sound mix achieves the same boring stillness that the film does. Bookending the film are a few action scenes that bring this soundtrack to life. When random gunfire is hitting the station you'll hear bullets being fired and missing their marks all over the room. The biggest set piece in the movie is an exploding truck and its appropriately loud. The LFE channel gets plenty of strong lows in these moments as well, without ever overpowering the mix.
The only extra is The Making of Numbers Station (HD, 14:25). It's a short but perfectly functional behind-the-scenes look at the movie with interview footage from John Cusack, Malin Ackerman, and a producer of the film. The actors mainly talk through parts of the plot and explain what they liked about the script. Nothing too lively here, but it serves its purpose.
The Numbers Station is the worst kind of bad movie. Where some thrillers try really hard and fail with wildly entertaining results, this is the kind that never even tries. In fact, the story almost feels designed to keep thrills off of the screen. The focus on the two main characters would've been welcome if they were anywhere close to interesting, but even they are boring derivatives of better characters from better films. Enthusiastic John Cusack fans may still want to check it out as his acting style fits the part pretty well, but anyone else should save their time. If you've already seen it and happen to be a fan, this blu-ray release delivers on the av front, but has only one weak extra.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th May 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: The Making of Numbers Station
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kasper Barfoed
Cast: John Cusack, Malin Akerman, Liam Cunningham
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 89 minutes
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