The Hummingbird Project

This is a story about people digging a data cable between two points in the US mainland to give them an edge in stock trading, but it’s much more – in fact, it might me about too much more.

Two brothers, tech genius savant and family man Anton (Alexander Skarsgård, and though it’s never said outright, he seems to be a high functioning autistic) and fast-talking hustler Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) work for no-nonsense New York stock trading firm CEO Eva (Salma Hayek), but they have a plan of their own.

When having the latest stock prices and figures before your competitor can make all the difference, time counts in transmission of the data between nodes, and Anton and Vincent plan to beat the system. When they line up the necessary contractors, work crews, materials and contracts they abruptly resign and travel to rural Kansas to a server farm to get started.

They intend to dig a data pipe in a directly straight line back to New York – which means going underneath people’s houses, under mountain ranges and through backwoods rivers – shaving nanoseconds off the transmission time. Among those they’ll unseat in the race is their now-nemesis ex CEO, who’s midway through her own project using microwave data towers and with which she resolves to put her former employees out of business (if the spies she sends to watch their progress don’t first).

As Vincent schmoozes and deals his way around locals, federal government restrictions and more, Anton works on the code and the equipment to get the system up and running, all while their financial benefactor is breathing down their necks.

The above description of the plot might call to mind a geeky techno-thriller full of well-appointed control rooms and high technology, maybe a ritzy tale of financial excess amid the dazzling skyscrapers of Wall St.

“The Hummingbird Project” is neither. Both lead characters spend most of their time in a woodland hotel, Anton working on a series of laptops and Vincent driving and flying between stops with his project manager, Mark (Better Call Saul’s Michael Mando), trying to overcome any number of roadblocks whether it’s negotiating a smoky river at dusk with a National Parks representative or pleading with an Amish elder to dig under the community’s land.

But even with such an unexpected visual and tonal palette for a story like this, writer/director Kim Nguyen bakes in even more off-kilter character traits, story motifs and visual elements that – at first glance – seem completely unsuited to a story about high stakes financial trading or ultrafast data cables.

For one thing, there’s a very weird soundtrack that sounds like it’s come straight out of a cynical hipster romance indie rather than a story about technology or share trading. One of the characters nurses a nasty shock about his health this review won’t spoil but which doesn’t really add to the story apart from giving the quest added urgency.

Hayek as the villainous Eva out to destroy Vincent and Anton is great as she always is, but with her distinctive eyeglass frames, take no prisoners approach to business and thick Hispanic accent she seems to have too much character – ironically so, in a world so full of bland archetypes in movies.

Not that it doesn’t all fit together, because the script by Nguyen is cohesive and he’s obviously not just talented but bold enough to wrangle so many disparate themes and moods into something that feels whole. But it does teeter on the edge of over-egging the pudding.

One particular high note is that the movie finally gives Skarsgård something interesting to do. He’s been terribly bland in a lot of projects (Mute, The Legend of Tarzan, What Maisie Knew), but the character of Anton is perfectly suited to his (limited) abilities as an actor and fits together perfectly with the skittish, talkative Vincent. It helps that he also hides a big and very satisfying twist up his sleeve.

It’s quirky and there’s not a lot of conflict in the drama, but it’s an interesting experiment in doing something that has a style all its own when your viewers are expecting something completely different.

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