The Hummingbird Project is the latest addition in a new wave of post-financial crisis films to explore the sinister side of Wall Street. Unlike many of the cautionary tales that make up the genre, which both chastise the protagonist while simultaneously revelling in the misguided nature of their excess, Kim Nguyen’s film is a thriller in which success and failure literally hinge on milliseconds.
Cousins Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) Zaleski work for a Wall Street financial firm that deals with high frequency trading. Tired of making money for others, the pair devise a plan to run fibre-optic cable from the Kansas Electronic Exchange all the way to the New York Stock Exchange. The cable would allow them to have an edge on the competition by acquiring key information milliseconds before other traders.
Serving as the overall brains of the operation, Vincent will stop at nothing to see his dream become a reality. He quickly hires a head contractor, Mark Vega (Michael Mando), to oversee the various drilling crews required and begins securing numerous land deals from naive homeowners. His icy resolve is a stark contrast to eccentric family man Anton, who has the tough task of coming up with an algorithm that will ensure their data transfer is the fastest on the market.
As with all reckless get rich quick schemes, the duo encounters a slew of problems along the way. The two biggest being figuring out how to run their cable straight through the Appalachian Mountains, which is not only government owned land but also presents several environmental challenges; and dealing with the scorn of their old boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek). Shocked by Anton’s sudden departure from the firm, Eva makes it her mission to uncover what the cousins are scheming.
Mixing in tragicomedy with the will they or won’t they succeed moments of drama, The Hummingbird Project is both entertaining and frustrating at times. The film never carries the same sense of urgency and tension that the narrative implies.
One of the obstacles that The Hummingbird Project has trouble navigating is how to make stocks and the arbitrary factors that govern them thrilling. While Nguyen does a good job of explaining Vincent’s vision, and the physical work needed to implement thousands of miles of cable underground, the film does not provides enough reason to care if the cousins are successful in their elaborate venture. Vincent may frame the journey as a David versus Goliath tale, but Nguyen shows that there is no noble victor in this fight. One is essentially observing Victor and Eva race to be the fastest to screw over the public and make millions in the process.
Instead of truly embracing the brashness of Vincent’s ego, Nguyen tries hard to humanize the character through the film’s meditative visuals. By pausing to capture a baseball being caught in slow motion or observing the beauty of rain drops hitting the ground, the film subtly reminds the viewer that Vincent is merely a middle-class guy whose visions of grandeur got out of control. However, these moments are too few and far between. They fail to mesh cohesively with the rest of the film and causes the pacing to grind to a halt at the most inopportune moments.
The Hummingbird Project is far more captivating when focusing on Anton. Much of this is due to the wonderful turn that Skarsgård gives in the role. He skillfully finds the humour in Anton’s paranoia, while grounding the character enough to embody the moral quandary of their goal. Unfortunately, not even Skarsgård’s work can save the film’s overall stock from dropping. The Hummingbird Project is scattered with engaging moments, but there is not enough to warrant investing in.