The Hummingbird Project
Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando
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…needs more subtlety and better storytelling…
It is an intriguing fact that the financial system that runs the economy is so complex and arcane that only a few can actually understand it. Particularly since the de-regulatory 1980s, stock exchanges work via electronic trading in massive volumes at incomprehensible speeds. This is the backstory to director Kim Nguyen’s drama, The Hummingbird Project. One could be tempted to call it a thriller, but it isn’t quite tense enough for that.
We join the story when two young men (who happen to be cousins) are the young guns of a cutting-edge financial firm. Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) is the stereotypical brash young trader who can swing a deal worth millions, and then just wander off from his desk with a high five and a sly grin. His cousin, Anton (Alexander Skarsgard), is the Russian boffin that thinks about vital algorithms that, supposedly, no one else in the company can understand. His boss, Eva (Salma Hayek), keeps Anton in check with a combination of seduction and threat. This is the first weakness of the film, as Hayek is completely miscast. She plays the boss as a kind of femme fatale, replete with too-tight dresses and heavy makeup. It works for a couple of scenes, but most of the time it feels as if she has stumbled in from a completely different film which might have been shooting on an adjacent lot.
The general McGuffin/plot-starter that they are all chasing is a way to shave a few micro seconds off trading times to beat the market. Vincent’s idea is to build a straight cable/pipeline between two cities. To do this, he has to project manage a nightmare with multiple things that can go wrong, and with his now-angry ex-boss on his trail. This is the second problem with the film. Project management and cable laying are not inherently interesting or cinematic topics. Too many scenes are just arguments between various contractors.
A lot of the weight of the film falls on Eisenberg’s shoulders. He can be charismatic and able to suggest intelligence and complexity (as he did in the far superior The Social Network), but here he just looks like he is suffering from a migraine.
Finally, as the chase to complete the pipeline comes to its conclusion, we are supposed to believe that Vincent has a kind of epiphany about his life. This comes so late and works against the film as a whole. It is not clear that you can make a capitalist and anti-capitalist film at the same time. Or rather you can, but it needs more subtlety and better storytelling skills than this.