The Hummingbird Project

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 6, 2019

'The Hummingbird Project'
'The Hummingbird Project'  

Writer-director Kim Nguyen's "The Hummingbird Project" falls in a sweet spot between comedy and drama, and just a little to the side of the thriller genre/. It has the "based on true events" feel of, say, "War Dogs," though as far as I can tell the film is entirely fictional.

It does have a genuine-sounding premise, however. Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg), an ambitious young man working in the financial sector, comes up with the idea of creating a "straight, 1,000-mile long, four-inch wide fiber optic tunnel" that will directly connect the Kansas Electronic Exchange to the New Jersey-located servers of the New York Stock Exchange. This will enable him to beat the best time of everyone else on the market by clocking in with a transaction speed of 16 milliseconds - or, as Anton observes at one point, "one single flap of a hummingbird's wings." If attainable (a big if, but that's not a detail that will slow Vincent) the 16-millisecond goal will beat everyone else's best time by a scant millisecond - but that millisecond will be worth half a billion dollars per year.

What an idea guy needs, of course, is someone with engineering and coding chops, and Vince's cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgrd) has that in abundance - so much so, that when Vince poaches his cousin and leaves the firm where they both have been working under the watchful eye of boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek, in perhaps the best bad boss role since Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada"), Eva sticks to Anton like glue. Sensing something profitable - and liable to present unwelcome competition - Eva sics a private detective on the pair, who by now have brought on a project manager named Mark (Michael Mando). All it takes is an enlarged photo of a map for Eva to realize what the cousins are doing, and to launch her own counterstrike: A new series of microwave towers that will be able, in theory, to complete transactions in a mere 11 milliseconds. Let the technological arms race begin.

Legal, financial, and engineering snags spring up like a thicket, of course, but Nguyen thickens the plot and underscores his message by throwing in an additional twist: Suffering stomach pains, Vincent seeks medical care and discovers he has terminal cancer. His response is to accelerate his efforts and drive all the harder toward his goal. But maybe, Nguyen suggests, the exact opposite is what's called for; maybe a better idea would be to slow down, set aside the insanely escalating race for greater speed and all its high-flown scientific jiggery ("neutrino messaging!"), and enjoy life while it's still happening for him.

It's a worthwhile message, but luckily it's one that can be contemplated off-screen. The film hits the ground running and, propelled by its three main stars - Eisenberg doing his jittery thing, Hayek doing one mean Wall Street Queen, and Skarsgrd killing it as a man who is as brilliant as he is eccentric and, often, deeply terrified - keeps things at a full gallop.

The takeaway? The American Dream has never been more of a high-pressure, velocity-dependent prospect; it's all too easy for visions of wealth and success to lapse into the palm of nightmares. But it's possible, when that dream becomes an all-devouring trance, to awaken, if only for a short space of time, and discover that there are other forms of riches and success.


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.