Sometimes a movie looks interesting, timely, and well put together. That’s exactly what The Hummingbird Project looked like to me. With a cast of big names led by Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, I couldn’t understand why it was being dumped in the middle of March. Its look into technology and finance seemed to be a high stakes thriller of sorts that should play out quite nicely.
Oh, how appearances deceive. About 30 minutes into The Hummingbird Project I realized I wasn’t watching a film with any stakes at all, but instead a boring feature that cared more about its two entirely uninteresting lead characters than the plot at hand. Maybe if the film had bothered to be about something a bit more it could have driven some interest but it is instead mostly unlikable throughout. In making a movie about two brothers trying to tackle an impossible feat, they’ve made a film that is nearly an impossible feat to sit through.
The Hummingbird Project
Director: Kim Nguyen
Release Date: March 22, 2019
So here is the setup: in the world of high-speed financial training milliseconds count. If you can get in and out before the other guy you can make millions playing off bets before anyone else. Thus, having the fastest internet connection is really important. We find Vincent Zaleski (Eisenberg) and his cousin Anton (Skarsgård) working at Eva Torres’ (Hayek) high-frequency trading firm. Vincent is the fast-talking sales guy and Anton is the fiber-optics genius. Together the two of them launch a plan to lay thousands of miles of fiber optic cable from Kansas City to New York in order to gain a millisecond advantage over other traders and become rich. However, they have to deal with Torres, who they betray, and a bunch of locals whose land they need to use along the way.
If the laying of fiber optic cable sounds dull to you, that’s because it is, and no amount of family tension or greedy backstabbing is going to make it interesting. The biggest problem with The Hummingbird Project is that it doesn’t really have a problem. It feels like a film detached from reality, where two cousins would go out and dig up miles upon miles of America on their own. Who knows, maybe that’s how it actually works but for a movie it just feels boring. The tension is supposed to come from Vincent and Anton’s inability to get things done and work together but for most of the film its hard to even stand either one of them. Are we supposed to be cheering fro them or for Eva or for any of the capitalists who are out for themselves? The film never gives us anything to hold onto other than cable.
Nguyen doesn’t do the film’s lackluster story any favors either. The first 30 minutes feel like they were written by the dictionary definition of high-speed trading. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into until the actual digging starts and even then everything falls slightly out of place. We’re supposed to be looking in on the top-secret massive undertaking but it feels like we’re rushed through it, never given an actual understanding of what’s going on. There’s drama with an Amish community who won’t let the cousins dig under their land, but we’re only really given their side of the issue. It feels like the bigger picture just gets left behind over and over again.
Thankfully, the characters do develop so by the end of the film they’re slightly more tolerable. It helps that great actors are playing them. Eisenberg is mostly just doing Eisenberg throughout the film (a stark contrast after just seeing him in The Art of Self-Defense), but Skarsgård steals the show with his quirky yet powerful Anton. The two play off each other so well that even though their characters aren’t much fun to watch you can enjoy the scenes between them. Hayek seems to be half committed to her role, but part of that might just be she’s given the most exposition at the beginning of the film. Once the tension starts rolling she’s right in there with the other two leads.
I don’t want to argue that every movie has to have a likable character but you need characters you can attach to. Take Vice as an example since its another movie about something that could be boring but is presented in a way as to make it not. That film delivers a host of horrible characters and yet you can grab onto them and enjoy the show. The Hummingbird Project has nothing like that. There’s no meat — good or bad — to bite into with these characters and a movie about digging holes with no meat (or no Shia Lebuff) just isn’t anything all that interesting.
I will give credit to the movie to capturing the beauty of Appalachia, though. Ngyuen is able to cram in some fantastic aerial shots, which he then uses to play against for more macro views of a 4-inch cable getting buried in dirt. There’s conceivably a film here that plays back and forth between the greed of the investors in New York and the world their tearing up just to get a little bit richer (or buy a house on a hill in the case of Anton) and the people’s whose lives they are literally digging up. The movie never dives into it, though. Its more concerned with a micro view of what’s playing out and, as I’ve said, that micro view doesn’t deliver anything you can enjoy because the characters aren’t really people you want to be spending time with.
The Hummingbird Project seems like a film without a need. There’s a story of people you don’t need to know about, coupled with the story of a cable getting put in the ground no one asked for. Here and there the stellar cast can pull something interesting out of all of this, but it isn’t worth the rest of the trudge. I’m not even sure a better-made movie about this would be all that interesting either. The fault might not lie with anyone other than the folks who came up with the idea to make a film about digging a hole and putting some wire in it.