DIRECTED BY: KIM NGUYEN/2019
Director Kim Nguyen already had a great start to his latest film, The Hummingbird Project, when he landed a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek, and Michael Mando. As both the writer and director of this film, however, he ultimately is responsible for the final product, and thanks to his cast, The Hummingbird Project is decidedly a more positively leaning mixed bag.
Vincent Zaleski (Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader, working on Wall Street for the cutthroat owner of a brokerage firm named Eva Torres (Hayek). His brother, Anton Zaleski (Skarsgard), also works for Torres, and is tasked with leading a team to help find ways to shave milliseconds off the data transfer times. This is how fast they receive their data and buying requests from the Kansas Exchange, to where they are in Manhattan. While Anton has always been the brilliant scientist with endless ideas, lately he has been a bit blank, and unfocused, and this hasn’t escaped the notice of Torres, who demands loyalty and hard work above everything else.
On the side, Vincent has lined up investors and has procured the services of Mark Vega (Mando) who will be drilling and installing fiber optic cable that connects the Kansas Exchange with the servers for the New York Exchange, located in New Jersey. The catch is that his cable line must be an actual straight line, no matter what obstacles lie in its way. This would be a legal nightmare to obtain property rights for all of this, as so many private properties, commercial properties, and federally owned land lie it its path. Its all taken care of by Vincent, who is given Eisenberg’s trademark fast-talking tech spiel that he used in his Oscar-nominated performance in The Social Network.
Nguyen’s script does a good job of demonstrating the zealous ambition and drive these characters have in their “money-is-no-object” attempts to shave a simple millisecond off of the data speeds to give them a leg-up on the competition. It also builds a good dynamic between Vincent and Anton who are stronger together than apart. The tragic effect of that is seen in how Anton’s willingness to help Vincent comes at a higher price given that he has a loving wife and two daughters that he adores, and Vincent is simply a single man with no attachments and a singular focus.
Mando brings a strong presence, and a steely resolve to his scenes that he also so wonderfully provides to the Breaking Bad spin-off series he stars on, Better Call Saul. He, Eisenberg, and Skarsgard have good chemistry together, and Mando knows how to naturally infuse some subtle comedic quips into what is supposed to be no-nonsense business talk when their characters are together.
Salma Hayek obviously relishes her roll as the ambitious and terrifying corporate head who has no problem getting down into the mud to win at all costs in this race for faster information. Her frosted hair and tinted sunglasses gives her character the “do not cross me” look and feel that she exhibited in Savages. She stole every scene, and frankly, more of her would have been a good thing.
The film moves at a decent pace but is too content to ignore the financial tangibles that would root the story in a little more reality to help us feel the strain the characters are under to get this project done. Money is spent constantly without anyone batting an eye, until one scene is shown with Eisenberg having to ask for another payment from his investor. This would be fine except that no where do we learn what kind of start-up money he was entrusted with, what a job like this would cost, or why an investor with that much financial capital should trust someone like Vincent, other than Vincent relating a vision he has while describing that he is a hard worker. We never get a sense of his credibility to pull all of this off, other than having a good plan, and being highly ambitious.
Like Vincent’s own internal battle with a cancer diagnosis, we see how the pursuit of saving one millisecond, the time it takes for a hummingbird to beat its wing one time, is a lost cause. Time is fleeting. We only have so much of it, and so much is lost pursing the things that don’t matter. What we work so hard to produce now could easily be undone by the next technology tomorrow. What really matters, of course, is the people we meet along the way, and The Hummingbird Project eventually brings out some of these finer points, even if it gets a little bogged down along the way.
The Hummingbird Project opens at select theaters this weekend.