If you’re looking for something thought-provoking, but less terrifying than US, The Hummingbird Project is the smart person’s financial thriller. That means, it helps to be somewhat of a geek to embrace what is surely meant to be a cautionary tale for our modern, digital world. The movie, from writer/director Kim Nguyen (War Witch) grew on me as it went along, even though the subject matter didn’t exactly thrill me and I didn’t particularly like the ending. Perhaps if it were based on a true story – which it seems like it would be, but isn’t – I’d have felt more invested in the characters and the plot, about two cousins who concoct a plan to build a fiber-optic cable line from Kansas to New Jersey to shave a millisecond from the transfer of stock information, thus enabling traders with access to the line to make millions. In case you’re wondering, one millisecond is the speed of a hummingbird’s wing-flap (at least, I think that part is true!).
The cast of The Hummingbird Project makes this movie soar a bit higher than it otherwise might. Jesse Eisenberg channels his Social Network persona as Vincent, the hustler and mastermind behind the ambitious project. And a virtually unrecognizable Alexander Skarsgård (The Aftermath) plays his brainy cousin Anton, an uber-geek obsessed with using his code and analytic skills to find that all-important millisecond. Then, there’s the challenge of actually getting the thing built, with obstacles including mountains, an Amish community, a health crisis, and a vindictive former boss (Salma Hayek) bent on sabotaging their plan. Their chief engineer Mark (Michael Mando) helps ground the project and all the people involved, and is probably the most likeable character of the bunch.
The relationship between Vincent and Anton reminded me of the dynamic between Charlie and Raymond in Rain Man. The cousins are different as can be, but there’s love at the core of their dysfunctional family dynamic. The Hummingbird Project isn’t a must-see on the big screen. It’s flawed, much like its main characters. But it’s a fine choice for the streaming queue when you feel like watching something smart with a side of satire that seems like it could be based on a true story. Hard hats optional.
For more discussion and debate about The Hummingbird Project, tune-in to this edition of the Cinema Clash podcast: