Monday, 29 July 2013

The Numbers Station

Recently released on blu-ray is the new John Cusack thriller The Numbers Station.  It concerns a CIA black ops agent that has become tired of his job and his only option, short of being murdered for knowing too much, is to guard a young woman called Katherine (Malin Akerman) who works at the Numbers Station.

Emerson Kent (Cusack) is the governments black ops agent of which I speak, the film starts with him going into a bar and talking to an ex-agent who ran away from his career and started working a more subtle under-the-radar job serving beer.  Emerson shoots him dead with a satisfying ‘pyooo’ noise that comes from guns with silencers.  A witness who was in the bar reacts appropriately and legs it out the door to as far away as possible. Unfortunately for him and ultimately his daughter, he leaves his wallet, and therefore address, behind. 


Emerson drives up to their house and ‘pyooo’, then the victims’ daughter appears suddenly and asks Emerson why he did what he was doing.  It felt awkward when she said it, and it turns out to be a plot device as Emerson instantly has a crisis of confidence and lets her live.  Michael Grey, Emerson’s boss, witnesses this and knocks Emerson unconscious and shoots the girl dead in the snow.  It was well tense and all symbolic, innit. Emerson ends up getting offered the opportunity to be murdered or to do a baby sitting job watching over a young woman, Katherine, who reads out cryptic numbers on the radio to agents like him so they know who to kill, or that their tea is ready or who won X-Factor.  I will take this moment for a small real life history lesson.

The whole mythology and possible truth behind the numbers stations is a very interesting and exciting thing.  Ever since the end of World War I there have been reports of women reading out lists of numbers on specific frequencies on radios.  The most popular and plausible theory of what these lists of numbers are for is various governments contacting field agents to give them secret coded information.  The Internet is full of examples of these radio broadcasts in Spanish, Russian, English and many other languages. The one thing they have in common is they are truly emotionless and eerie.  Like looking into the eyes of a Poundland employee.

A YouTube member created a video below but the sounds are as they would be heard on the radio.


Tell me that doesn’t creep you the hell out.  Someone probably died after that was originally broadcast and that freaks me right out.

Anyway. Emerson ends up in quite the sticky situation since someone has found the station and has killed the night shift woman and her bodyguard.  This puts a lot of things at risk including their lives and the governments comfort levels.  Emerson is then asked to kill the innocent Katherine, and you may remember that not wanting to kill innocent women was why he was put here in the first place.  It has many a tense twist, at least one or two turns, sometimes twists AND turns and an unnerving amount of misdirection. 

I’m not sure if you understand the tension levels, so here’s a game we can play. Imagine you have walked in on your father having an affair with another man and your sister, and suddenly the door closes behind you. Your Dad is struggling to talk through his gimp mask and the other two have their mouths full.  Your mother is on the other side of the door asking you to open it because she has made you some cupcakes. You see how tense you would feel?  That’s how tense I felt throughout this film.  Then again my diet is entirely energy drinks and cigarettes, so perhaps that has something to do with it.


The film has been reported by other sources as boring, and by all means it should be boring for many reasons.  For example there is essentially no more than two characters in this film, and their main role in the film is to wait about.  Anyone that has flown with Ryanair during the winter months knows how exciting this isn’t. Could it be that my life is so insanely tedious, and boring already that I failed to realise this? Because I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time, though this was partly because the television is quite far away and I think I need glasses.  

However you want to look at it, the acting was very good; subtle, gritty and noir. The special effects were cheap feeling but it added to it in a strange way. I think knowing that these numbers stations are actually broadcasting as we speak in real life makes it a wee bit more interesting but that’s me.  Watch it and see what you think.

David Roberts, CeX Ann Street, Belfast



The Numbers Station at CeX



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