What’s this then? John Cusack as a world-weary hitman, who is starting to wonder if his chosen profession was really such a good option after all “ if there is any sense in the killings he undertakes, if he is losing an important part of himself through what he does as a profession?
Before you get excited, be aware Cusack is not playing Martin Blank, and choice of profession is the only thing that Cusack’s character Emerson Kent has in common with the quick witted protagonist of Grosse Point Blank. What little we learn of Kent is a world away from the twitchy, fast talking Blank. Kent is slow moving, chronically gloomy, psychologically burdened by the killing of a young woman during a hit.
Since he is a government authorised hitman, as he is deemed unfit for active service in the light of this botched mission, he is sent to a quiet, out of the way posting at a numbers station, somewhere in the UK. According to the movie, a numbers station is a location, usually a disused army facility where cryptographers send out coded messages to operatives in the field via codes (not dissimilar to Enigma machine transmission during World War 2). As these missions are usually hits, it’s important that the codes be uncrackable, and then instantly destroyable by operatives so that there is complete deniability should anything go wrong.
But what could go wrong? Surely nothing. Emerson will put in lengthy monotonous shifts watching out for Katherine (Malin Ackerman), the young woman cryptographer he is assigned to watch and will gloomily drift through the next few months before resuming active service, or maybe quitting entirely. What’s that? The Numbers Station is attacked you say, and Kent must try to protect Katherine to symbolically erase the memory of the young woman he allowed to die?
You can probably guess the rest. Suffice to say that the attackers are entirely anonymous, the action scenes underwhelming, and the character development minimal. Cusack is always watchable and does his best with what he’s given and there are some passably interesting ideas expressed about how governments ask people to do terrible things in the name of national security, and then despise them for doing those things. But these are pretty much lost in the uninteresting story. It’s a shame as it felt like this could be something more. And giving such a by-the-numbers thriller the title The Numbers Station is just a gift to lazy reviewers¦