How exactly do you turn a convoluted, high–frequency trading fiber–optic cable development scheme into a compelling, fast–paced thriller? If The Hummingbird Project is any indication, chances are you can’t. Not to say that the jargon–laden drama with buddy–movie tendencies is an all–out failure, for it hits a handful of high notes and occasionally edges on effective dark humor. However, while some risks do pay off in the end, and I mean the very end, The Hummingbird Project has a difficult time getting off the ground as the true thriller it seems to want to be.
At the center of what eventually becomes an all–out shit storm involving sudden illness, the FBI and a pissed–off Amish community, among other obstacles, cousins Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) Zaleski are put in high gear to accomplish an incredible technological feat set to change the high–frequency trading game. Their goal is to run a straight fiber–optic cable right through the Appalachian mountains from Kansas to the New York Stock Exchange, bringing the information transport time down by a single, precious millisecond. If successful, the scheme will bring Vincent, Anton, and their antsy investors millions. After a messy resignation from their positions at a firm in New York, Vincent and Anton embark on a precarious journey across the country. As the de facto brawn of the duo, Vincent has his meeker, tech–genius cousin, Anton, on a leash. While Anton works tirelessly at a hotel in Pennsylvania, his fast–talking, all–or–nothing partner hacks away at a monumental engineering project that, with every investor meeting and practical barrier, seems less and less likely to succeed. Both Eisenberg and Skarsgård capture their slightly exaggerated roles brilliantly, even when their dialogue is inconsistent. At times their imbalanced back and forth is crafted seamlessly, with Anton’s socially inept fumbles serving as a particularly clever stroke of levity in an otherwise bleak take on monumental self–indulgence. Occasionally, the dialogue is contrived and cliché, shooting an already hard to believe tale into one distractingly removed from reality.
Even when the storytelling in The Hummingbird Project falls flat, as it does for much of the first and second acts of the film, Vincent and Anton work as foils of one another to maintain a second–order conflict that in some ways supersedes the tension of the main plot. Even a threatening drop–in from a vicious Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), the cousins’ former ruthless boss who is written into the film as more of a plot point than a character, fails to deliver the extra oomph this minutely detailed story needed. It isn’t exactly that you’re rooting for Vincent, who comes across as greedy, manipulative, and morally bankrupt from the get–go, but by aligning with the polite genius of Anton, you can’t help but hope the two of them are scrappy enough to find a way out of the enormous rut Vincent’s unwavering ambition has landed them in.
Besides the extraordinary scenery and impressive work from Eisenberg and Skarsgård, the greater part of The Hummingbird Project leaves you wanting more. As a story built on minutiae, driven by the desire to cut literal milliseconds off a cable transfer time, it needs something beyond the occasional curveball to deliver high stakes thrill. At the same time, the film isn’t lacking in depth. Its approach to assessing greed and ambition is complex and nuanced, providing a pay–off that walks the line of making all the film’s flaws worthwhile. Ultimately, don’t expect to be entertained by most of The Hummingbird Project, though you certainly won’t leave the theater empty–handed.