The Hummingbird Project
Everything is on the line.
Two traders (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård) compete with their old boss (Salma Hayek) to land a massive deal in this drama thriller.
"Determined to create a more efficient way of transmitting information between stock exchanges, the cousins [Eisenberg and Skarsgård] scheme to lay fibre-optic cable from Kansas City to New York, gaining them and their clients crucial seconds in order to trounce their competitors. Vincent (Eisenberg) — the force behind the scheme — is a frantic dreamer who pursues his ideas with zealot-like intensity while promising everyone the moon. Anton (Skarsgård) is the brains, a socially awkward data wiz with few friends besides Vincent. Both end up in the crosshairs of their ruthless former employer Eva Torres, a Wall Street lion willing to devour anyone unlucky enough to get in her way. Unfortunately, Anton hasn't entirely figured out how to make the cable connection fast enough to warrant the expense. As time runs out, Vincent's claims of grandeur get progressively wilder." (Toronto International Film Festival)
- Kim Nguyen('War Witch', 'City of Shadows', 'Truffe')
Rating: M Offensive language
The Hummingbird Project has all the makings of a wicked moral thriller. Its probe into sticky ethical quandaries inherent in the unchecked tech-driven colossus that is the modern era is, undoubtedly, sharply topical stuff. But writer/director Kim Nguyen, a competent hand but lacking the superior formalist chops of a David Fincher to elevate and galvanise the material, only gets there in scattered fashion.
As such, the film is low-boil Soderbergh-lite, a strange, curious shrug of a movie that nevertheless compensates with decent performances and an uncannily persuasive veneer of verisimilitude. Yes, going into The Hummingbird Project cold, I did wonder whether what I was seeing was actually based on some nutty true story.
The Fincher connection is almost unavoidable, given the presence of Jesse Eisenberg. His turn as Vincent Zaleski, a high-frequency hustler executing a get-rich-quick fibre cabling scheme, has more than a few superficial similarities to his career-defining performance as Mark Zuckerberg in Fincher’s The Social Network. Eisenberg is the perfect actor to force us to keep up with Nguyen’s thick Wall Street-speak, and communicate the thrill of the trade, but his live-wire moxie can only do so much heavy lifting.
Elsewhere, Nguyen doubles down on ticking-clock frissons, oiling the plot with Zaleski’s hulking on-the-Rain Man-spectrum cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) chasing those make-or-break milliseconds of lucrative data delivery. I can enjoy a bald, against-type Skarsgård nerding out as much as the next person, but he’s one of several elements, including a particularly schematic soul-searching development and Salma Hayek’s scene-devouring corporate rival, requiring a more graceful finessing of tone.
Los Angeles Times
Sydney Morning Herald
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
NZ Herald (Francesca Rudkin)
Michael Mando is the only redeeming factor in this film that achieves absolutely nothing
Sometimes I can't help but think that actors these days don't have to act anymore; as if they are incapable of pulling off other personalities. Every Johnny Depp character is over-the-top and maniacally delusional and can't help but gesture wildly. Michael Cera seems to only be able to play an introverted, shy kid. And here we have Jesse Eisenberg who seems to have gotten himself stuck in Lex Luthor mode from the critically panned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Seemingly skittish and slightly unstable, Eisenberg puts on another awkward and floundering performance for The Hummingbird Project.
This tech-based premise also runs along a similar vein as The Social Network; another Eisenberg film where his character also attempts to use another person's idea to screw them over, for his own financial gain. The main appeal of the premise lies in the ability to make a lot of money in a small amount of time with minimal work (after the initial set-up). Unfortunately, the reality of the technical side of things is far less appealing, and this thriller ends up with no pace to it.
Like watching the worlds slowest race, that coincidentally happens to be the most expensive race too, The Hummingbird Project is like watching an episode of Hanna-Barbera's cartoon series, Wacky Races. None of the main characters are all that likeable, and their conflicts become so frequent that the film becomes almost formulaic in its structure. I really liked how the film did go into detail about the planning and logistics of the project, following it through step-by-step, and yet the film still struggled to portray the true cost of things. Despite calling out quotes in the hundreds of thousands for every step, when you don't know the budget to start with, one cannot really gauge whether a price is expensive or not. The sense of scale is something that isn't properly portrayed.
As far as the casting choices went, I've already voiced by disinterest in anything with Jesse Eisenberg. I think this is the straw that broke the camels back, and I will be hesitant with any of his future work. Salma Hayek plays the role of Eisenberg's opposing force, and it really didn't fit her. Admittedly, the accent and the greyish highlights in the hair had her looking as gorgeous as ever, but as far as her character went, she lacked the vicious streak that the role required, and came off more like a villain from a kids movie, than a well-rounded character with a differing perspective.
The standout performances came from Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Mando. Skarsgård is near unrecognisable with a bald cap, glasses, and unflattering clothing. Combined with the eccentricities that were woven into his character, he is one of the more developed characters. That being said, his motivations were weak, and his lack of interaction with certain characters makes him unlikeable.
Mando, on the other hand, has only a minor supporting role in the film but is the only friendly face we get in the entire 111-minute runtime. He has a surprising amount of charisma and an infectious smile that grabs your attention in every scene that he is present in.
The cinematography is less than inspired, and you can tell that the film doesn't have the largest budget (and least you hope it didn't, as you can literally see the fuzz of a bug landing on the camera lens in the opening scene of the film). But even the most captivating shots can't fix a poor script, which is what this really comes down to. Nobody really wants to watch two groups of unlikeable people try to outdo each other indirectly so that they can make more money from the stock market.