March 11, 2019 The Hummingbird Project (Movie Review)
Not to be confused with the 2012 short of the same name, The Hummingbird Project arrives via The Orchard on March 15, 2019. From Writer/Director Kim Nguyen, who previously produced the 2012 Oscar nominee War Witch, as well as the curious-sounding 2016 drama Two Lovers and a Bear, The Hummingbird Project goes to the most exotic of locations; the United States!
Cousins Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg: Zombieland 2009, Justice League 2017) and Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård: Melancholia 2011, Zoolander 2 2016) are High Frequency traders banking on building a fibre-optic cable connection between Kansas and New Jersey. With Anton’s book-smarts, and Vincent’s street-smarts, they could make millions off this deal. Provided they do not drive everyone and each other up the wall or fall to the machinations of their formidable former boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek: From Dusk till Dawn 1996, Frida 2002). Can they realize their dream? Or is time not on their side?
The film promises to “expose the ruthless edge of our increasingly digital world” across its 111-minute running time, and without filling it with business jargon. Amongst the numbers and chatter about microwave towers and algorithms, there is a human story of family, clandestine schemes, and overcoming adversity. It sounds promising on paper, but how well does it fare on screen?
The answer is rather well, actually. At least from visuals, as its shots and cuts are at a high, professional level. It is a Hollywood film, so no duh. It throws in some nice visual imagery, such as a transition from a bird’s-eye view of a lonely convoy to Anton discussing business with a client (Frank Schorpion: Stonewall 2015, Arrival 2016). This is not to mention a few other visual tricks, like jump cuts, time-lapse shots, and the classic montage, that pass on the plot to the viewer, as well as what the characters are like.
Distill the film to its simplest elements, and it is essentially a buddy road film. The extrovert (Vincent) takes the introvert (Anton) on a cross-country run to Kansas while chased by people hired by the villain (Torres). The former is cunning, the other is neurotic, and the baddie is both with a chunk of ruthlessness thrown in. It is not exactly the business version of 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit though. There are a few chuckles, but the film is not aiming to be a madcap comedy.
Vincent’s sheer chutzpah and Anton’s awkwardness are cut with some firm, dramatic twists. The film swings between seriousness and levity without coming off as natural. Sometimes it is a gradual shift, other times it is contrasting one character’s situation with another’s. Though it would not be as effective if the cast were not on point.
They do a great job, particularly Eisenberg, Skarsgård, and Hayek. Eisenberg brings out the conflict between ambition and doubt in Vincent. While Skarsgård expresses Anton’s stress and paranoia quite well. They make a sympathetic duo, particularly in the face of Hayek’s Torres. The cut-throat business exec is a familiar archetype, though it is cut with some modern touches. When she is nice, she speaks with Jobs/Musk-esque purple prose. When she is bad, her words get more pointed. She makes for an intimidating figure.
So, the acting is good, the direction is on point, and there are some neat dramatic flourishes along the way. It sounds like a great picture, though are there any downsides? Well, its key downside is more something that comes with the territory. Construction, I.T and the business thereof are dry subjects. They can be hard to make exciting without going off the rails and into the sky, and the film aims to stay grounded. As such, the emotional, dramatic highs have tech-speak and legalese lulls.
Does that make it a fatal flaw? Not really. The Hummingbird Project is upfront with its subject matter, so one can go in expecting talk about milliseconds vs microseconds, etc. It is nowhere near as bad on that front as, say, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded. Though it does make it a hard sell for people with a low tolerance for jargon. But with strong performances across the board, and some solid drama, its highs are worth the lows. Thus, there is reason enough for Cryptic Rock to give this film 4 out of 5 stars.