Despite its fascinating performances, THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT never really finds the urgency it needs to become the fast, funny and topical technological caper it should be
Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen exposes the ruthlessness of our increasingly digital world in his latest film THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT.
Tired of merely working for the system, Wall Street trader Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and his computer-genius cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) decide to quit their day jobs and do the impossible – build a thousand-mile-long, four-inch-wide tunnel from Kansas to New Jersey. The idea is to tunnel a fibre-optic cable that could transport stock market information one millisecond faster than the competition, making them millions in profit. But nothing is straightforward for this flawed pair. Constantly breathing down their necks is their furious former boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), a powerful, intoxicating and manipulative trader who will stop at nothing to come between them and beat them at their own game.
The bizarre storyline of THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT feels so much like its “inspired by true events” that you have to keep reminding yourself throughout the film that Nguyen’s feature is in fact entirely fictional. This quick-witted caper questions the moral and environmental cost of high-speed capitalism as Vincent and Anton’s relentless ambition becomes even more determined as a series of obstacles cross their paths, including nervous investors, obstinate land owners and an unexpected serious illness.
Jesse Eisenberg gives a quintessentially Eisenbergian performance as the no-nonsense, determined yet selfish Vincent who seems to care only for the snatch while Alexander Skarsgård is fascinating as the balding, potbellied, socially awkward Anton who spends most of the movie holed up in his hotel room trying to shave off milliseconds from their plan. Hayek goes full Cruella de Vil as former boss Eva Torres, putting a touch of glam camp on her villainess and pumping as much life into Eva’s cartoonish lines as much as she can.
Yet despite the fascinating performances, Nguyen never finds the urgency required to turn this tech-heavy story into the fast, funny and topical technological caper it should be. Starting off as a cold satire before eventually turning into a sentimental meditation on what really matters in this life, Nguyen never really manages to find the right balance between the fast-moving genre elements and the more contemplative character beats and backstories.
THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is also so burdened by the story’s wild logistic that it never really finds the rich veins of emotion that flow beneath its surface. The film’s underlying message gets buried under a long, tedious and stressful parade of scenes about subcontracting and the difficulties of digging through swamps, and the film ultimately falls into the narrow hole that it digs for itself.
That said, this is ambitious and stimulating fare from Nguyen, who coaxes terrific performances from his cast. While this intriguing genre-hybrid might be just a little too odd for mainstream audiences, it’s certainly a promising step in the right direction for its director.
THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 13 October 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.