LFF 2018: The Hummingbird Project Review
Two cousins quit their jobs, one more eagerly than the other, in the hopes of successfully constructing a fibre optic cable line from the New York stock exchange to the Kansas stock exchange, thus bagging themselves millions of dollars. Add to this one vengeful previous employer and many obstacles along their, quite literal, path and you have Kim Nguyen’s LFF debut The Hummingbird Project; a thriller that is less thrilling and more baffling.
It doesn’t take long to realise that only when Jesse Eisenberg takes to the screen is there any compulsion to stay seated. As businessman Vincent Zaleski, a no-less typical ‘Eisenberg’ role, he prevents the film from totally collapsing, giving a strong performance that is to be especially praised in consideration of the surprisingly sub-par script he is left to manage. Clunky exposition and unnecessarily convoluted descriptions of the already niche subject matter, namely the construction of fibre optic lines and stock market algorithms, at least sound a bit better from the mouth of Eisenberg. Though Vincent is more anti-hero than hero, persistently pressuring his cousin Anton into carrying out his every whim, Eisenberg presents a sense of humanity with the character. He recognises that his determination is destructive, but also that he is a desperate man with a need to complete this project for some kind of self-validation.
Alexander Skarsgård over-exaggerates the nervous energy of genius coder Anton but seems to lack any sort of conviction or originality. His decision to play the role in such a way leads you to ask whether the intention is to write the character off as the fool, a bland caricature who serves no more purpose than to help Eisenberg’s character move from point A to point B within his arc. Despite this near stock gothic villain performance, they’ve made an attractive man repulsive in every sense.
Similarly, Salma Hayek’s is ashamedly underplayed. As the savvy stock exchange CEO Eva Torres, Hayek is treated as a hysterical and aggressively competitive woman who has nothing better to do with her time than to set private investigators and FBI agents after the pair or fly out in Bond-esque fashion to threaten them in person. All the while, she is styled and performs with an overtly sexual edge that in any other film would have been entertaining and somewhat progressive, but here seeps with discomfort. Eva, and Anton, appear in constant conflict with the supporting cast who are more sober in their roles. It is a perfect example of the film in its entirety, the absurd invades the serious and leaves it a messy battlefield where both sides are defeated.
Under the ‘thrill’ strand at LFF and described as a financial thriller, it’s easy to enter The Hummingbird Project with expectations to the likes of Arbitrage, maybe even The Accountant. But thrilling this film is not. Its plot is driven by such specificity of industry that it will interest a few rather than the many, unaided by its failed attempts to make the world of fibre optics accessible or, simply, entertaining. The Hummingbird Project is disappointingly replete with bad jokes, ridiculous scenarios, and frankly unbelievable and uninteresting characters, all of which prevents it from even sitting within the ‘caper’ category of the genre.