In a world of high-stakes trading, where Wall Street looms large in the thoughts and ambitions of most individuals and high-speed transactions let people make millions instantly, greed, ambition and madness rule. A fraction of a second can mean huge earnings or losses, and different players will go to crazy lengths to maximize their profits.
This is the world in which the Zaleskis cousins find themselves in “The Hummingbird Project.” Jesse Eisenberg’s Vinny, the hustler, and Alexander Skarsgard’s Anton, the brains, are two former Wall Street employees who attempt to beat the New York Stock Exchange by developing faster electronic transaction systems than anyone else on the market. They do not try to create any new technologies, unlike their former boss Eva Torres, who is played by a scary, if not a bit overdone, Salma Hayek, and many of their competitors. Instead, the pair devotes their efforts into laying a gigantic, straight-line fiber-optic tunnel from Kansas City to New York.
The script has its flaws, suffering from the common Hollywood syndrome of aiming to explore too many themes while missing on the loftiness of moral statements. However, solid directing by Kim Nguyen, and a compelling — albeit outrageous — storyline and great performances from the leads make it worth a watch.
The abruptness with which the movie plunges into the plot creates c
onfusion and fails to establish the characters’ drivers and motivations, leaving the audience wondering about the real justification for Vinny’s dream project. Early in the film, Vinny secures an investor to provide massive capital for the enterprise and hires what would appear to be a geological engineer to run the operation. From this moment in the film, Anton and Vinny abruptly quit their jobs and go on a series of misadventures. The film leaves many questions unanswered, such as why Vincent hates his former boss so much, and whether his motivation comes from that, his love for Anton or a quickly and poorly explored spat with his father.
And yet, as quickly as the film starts, it slows and grinds to a near halt, with different situations and disjointed scenarios becoming circular and confusing. While some scenes provide good suspense and engage the audience, this slow-burning thriller loses some of its allure and narrative logic.
As a fellow technology geek and supporter of the intersection between science, policy and business, I was enthralled by moments when characters discussed the potential development of pulse-shaping microwave towers or the need to account for geological curvature and breathing spots in underground drilling exercises. Yet for many other viewers, these scenes may have been an esoteric overreach.
Despite this tech jargon, the leads are so devoted to their roles that watching the film may still be worth it.
Eisenberg is fully comfortable in the neurotic micromanager role he seems to have played in every movie since “The Social Network,” but he surprisingly and successfully adds new levels of depth and humanity to his character. Displaying good on-screen chemistry with Skarsgard, Eisenberg makes his love and caring for socially challenged cousin Anton more believable, and the way in which he deals with a potential personal tragedy makes him seem more human and relatable than usual.
Skarsgard is astounding and unrecognizable, playing a geeky computer genius with some child-like behaviors and a long-lasting dream of a house in the country with hummingbirds. This fact, along with the speed of the hummingbird’s flight, are both paid homage to in the title of the movie. Despite completely subverting the physical image, body language and behavior that has made him one of the best eye-candy actors in Hollywood — for those who do not remember, he played an incredibly cut Tarzan with a strong air of confidence and fearlessness just three years ago — he is still able to come off as sympathetic and likeable. From the way he walks, to the way he carefully sips from a straw, Skarsgard has the audience fully sold on his secluded and hermit-like ways, while still creating sympathy for the character.
The film’s ending is fitting for a somewhat disjointed movie that does not seem to hit all the tunes it was going for, and while a little unsettling, it can still earn some delight from viewers.