The Hummingbird Project, 2019.
Written and Directed by Kim Nguyen.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando, Johan Heldenbergh, Ayisha Issa, Mark Slacke, Sarah Goldberg, and Frank Schorpion.
A pair of high-frequency traders go up against their old boss in an effort to make millions in a fiber-optic cable deal.
It would be stupid to write off The Hummingbird Project as uninteresting due to its subject matter, which is improving high-speed fiber-optic connections in a straight shot from Kansas City to New York. Part of the general moviegoing experience is finding empathy and relating to characters and stories of all different kinds, many of which are inherently about things we don’t necessarily care about. As a young adult obsessed with director Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time despite me never once caring about ballet beforehand. On a grander scale, critics and audiences alike fell love with The Social Network (which coincidentally stars Jesse Eisenberg) while eating crow in the process for laughing at the very idea of a Facebook origin story functioning as a compelling narrative.
Unfortunately, The Hummingbird Project is ultimately a misfire only rendered passable thanks to strong turns from the aforementioned Jesse Eisenberg (he once again channels commitment and dedication to changing the game with levels that go far beyond obsession) and Alexander Skarsgard as a balding tech guru. Together, the cousins from New York leave the fiberoptics business they work for (a corporation run by Salma Hayek in a rather thankless role that paints her as a one-dimensional villain more than a rival) to hatch out a deal with a high-frequency trading organization that is going to dump unlimited money into their bank accounts in order to see this ambitious geographical endeavor through. If they are successful and if they can reduce the speed by a millisecond (a hummingbird flap), they can take advantage of Wall Street and become filthy rich… or something. The movie doesn’t really explain much about anything, and watching resourceful but greedy people get wealthy is not exactly an exciting endgame.
Written and directed by Kim Nguyen (who I’m suspecting cares more about all of this than any of us, especially considering this is not even based on a true story), The Hummingbird Project is an acting showcase if anything. This is a role we know Jesse Eisenberg can pull off in his sleep, and he’s perfectly serviceable here, but it’s Alexander Skarsgard that is given the closest thing to a complex character as he looks down on the majority of society for their lack of intelligence while following his cousin around compulsively without much explanation. They both seem driven to prove a point, whether it be out of family legacy or personal fulfillment, with each cousin pursuing this goal with reckless abandon. Skarsgard begins to neglect his family while Eisenberg places success over his stomach cancer that will kill him if not treated immediately.
The problem is that the film prioritizes problem-solving over at each dig site rather than developing these characters. Most issues that pop up come and go, while Salma Hayek looms in the background ready to take serious legal measures stopping at nothing to referring the cousins from usurping her own speeds, with a run-in with a defensive community of Amish citizens unwilling to allow digging to commence on their property, which is a huge problem considering this thing needs to be a straight horizontal line. It’s also the closest The Hummingbird Project gets presenting intriguing moral juxtapositions, as mostly the movie is going through the motions. However, perhaps its greatest failing is that not even solid acting can fully overcome the alienating esoteric premise.
As previously mentioned, The Hummingbird Project introduces contrived plot points like stomach cancer that are blatantly obvious when they will return to take the protagonist down another notch. There is no cat and mouse chase between the FBI and the cousins, although Selma Hayek does have a counterplan to their idea, but it also is not very engaging. At the same time, it’s probably about as good as a movie about high-speed fiber optics is going to get. There are also some refreshing settings ranging from forests and farms, with decent cinematography that frequently gets low to the ground to put the image in our heads of digital networking heading into the soil. If there was more conflict similar to the drama with the Amish family, The Hummingbird Project would have worked better as a contrast between technological ambition and morality, but as it is the only real reason to come and slog through to the end are Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard. The Hummingbird Project needs to be more character driven, not a series of episodic digging achievements.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com