Movie: THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT
Rating: R, language throughout
Release Date: March 15, 2019
Jeanne: Writer/director Kim Nguyen, whose film WARWITCH was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (2013), begins with an interesting premise for THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT, but in the execution of his screenplay, the film falls disastrously short of its intended goal. Billed as a "high-stakes financial thriller", I found it more of an absurd snooze --- and it's usually David who struggles with staying awake.
Two cousins, Vincent and Anton Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), second-generation Eastern European New Yorkers, have their own version of the American Dream. It is an insane project of constructing a fiber-optic line the width of a hair stretching --- in a straight line, no less --- from Kansas to New Jersey. If successful, data can be transferred in the "time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings" --- this according to Anton, who is a bit of an ornithologist.
They both leave their jobs working for the slick and ruthless hedge fund trader, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek). When she eventually has them followed by a private investigator and learns what they are up to, she hires her own ace --- a young Asian man (talk about stereotyping) --- to beat them at their own game.
I am not a fan. Nguyen's production has a plethora of faults --- beginning with his writing. And, if you follow me, it's ALL about the writing. At the beginning of THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT, Vincent is asked by his investor, Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion), why he should believe him. Vincent proceeds to make up an inane story, which Bryan calls bullshit, but he loans him a ghastly amount of money anyway. Right there and then THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT lost me --- and it never recovered.
Vincent is the hard-charging cousin, handling the day-to-day aspects of this ludicrous project. Anton, the brainiac, holes up in hotel rooms working on writing code and divining new algorithms --- tasked with cutting milliseconds from the data transfer. All of this is essentially illegal, not to mention crazy, because it involves leasing peoples' properties, drilling through all types of terrain, including granite mountains in national forests, which they shouldn't be doing legally.
Of course, a huge glitch develops. They can't convince an Amish elder (Johan Heldenbergh) to allow them to drill on his property --- even for the "greater good", as Vincent claims. And by the time Vincent and his project manager, Mark Vega (Michael Mando), figure out how to work around the Amish, Eva and her minions have conquered the day. Truly, I couldn't care less --- and neither will you.
Nguyen has assembled a terrific cast, but, unfortunately for them, his screenplay doesn't hold up his premise. Eisenberg is so adept at playing the acerbic, fast-talking manic, which is definitely Vincent. His down time with Anton, discussing their plans for all of their new-found wealth doesn't ring true, and that's not the fault of these two accomplished actors --- it's the writing.
Skarsgård is a fine actor, capable of a wide range of emotions, but here he's given too little to do. Anton is obviously brilliant, caught up in his own private world of numbers --- and that's about it. We know what drives Vincent, despite his life-threatening illness, but what does Anton want besides a home away from most of civilization?
I will admit, though, that the scene of him running away from the FBI around a resort, falling over a tennis net --- all while in his bathrobe --- is immensely funny. That, however, is the only fun moment in the entire film --- which is another issue I have with THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT. It's ridiculously serious and at 111 minutes --- too long.
How many times can we watch Eisenberg and Mando traipsing through fields, streams, lakes and across mountains, etc. trying to complete their scheme in time to make millions before it literally doesn't matter? At one point Vincent is running up a hill with a chainsaw like a lunatic. He's trying to get to Eva's microwave tower to destroy it, but he passes out instead. Sound like fun to you --- trust me, it's not. And don't even get me started on Nguyen's ending ---
THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is, according to Vincent, a present-day David and Goliath story, exposing the massive appetite for wealth in this country --- and especially in this chosen field of trading. While all of that is true --- and then some --- I do not believe that Nguyen has presented his argument against greed fully enough.
No one actually experiences the consequence of this thirst for money. Yes, Vincent has a terminal disease, but that is not the result of his nefarious ways. The movie is stupid --- with no redeeming qualities. Please don't waste your time and money --- despite what David writes!
Opinion: Don't Bother!
David: In writer/director Kim Nguyen's new film THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT, two financial wizards quit their lucrative jobs to lead a secret venture placing fiber-optic wire underground, stretching 1000 miles from Kansas to New Jersey. Why would they do this? First, because it would allow them, and their financial backers, the ability to process a trade faster than anyone else. Secondly, all involved would stand to make many millions in the process.
THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is a film tailor-made for actor Jesse Eisenberg. He plays Vincent Zaleski, the fast-talking salesman who must first convince an investor to back his idea, and then convince land owners to allow digging under their property. Nguyen says his film "only" runs 111 minutes largely because Eisenberg recites his lines so quickly.
Alexander Skarsgård plays Vincent's cousin Anton Zaleski, the introverted quant (think "rocket scientist") whose job it is to fashion a new algorithm that would result in a one millisecond gain in the speed of creating and finalizing a trade on Wall Street. Skarsgård, not one to shun a challenging role, added weight and wore a bald cap to alter his appearance. I like the fact that Eisenberg and Skarsgård's characters are virtual opposites in terms of their personalities and outlooks on life, yet they are best friends and perfect foils for each other in their quest.
Whether it's greed or the pure adventure of accomplishing this goal, I found THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT a very intriguing proposition. While it is not directly based on a true story, Nguyen's research showed that similar projects have been completed, so from a pragmatic point of view as it relates to hedge-fund trading, it makes sense.
However, the technology behind high-frequency trading changes so fast that Nguyen was worried his film would be obsolete even before it was released. I'm thinking 25 years from now, finance experts will consider THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT a comedy given its potentially simplistic ideas.
Unlike Jeanne, I was completely enthralled with this film. The requirement that the 1000 miles of fiber-optic wire had to be placed in a miniature tunnel, several feet below the ground --- and in a straight line --- is mind-boggling. The filmmakers pretended to utilize 20-ton digging machines and carbide drills to get through granite mountains, all transported by a helicopter they borrowed rather than spend $80,000 a day to rent. Amazing!
Furthermore, besides going through mountains, obstacles included rivers, trees and perhaps most difficult, getting approval from property owners for the project. This last problem is exacerbated in the film when Vincent runs into an Amish elder (Johan Heldenbergh) who refuses the $230,000 he and his community would be compensated. Here Eisenberg shines, even in an unsuccessful mode, as he valiantly tries to get the Amish man's approval.
Vincent and Anton partner with Mark Vega (Michael Mando) as their chief engineer/project manager who knows how to operate the heavy equipment. But Vega is also the voice of reason when Vincent tends to go off the deep end, and especially when Vincent becomes ill. Mando is equal to the main stars with his performance.
Completing the top-tier cast is Salma Hayek as Eva Torres. She is the no-nonsense hedge fund boss who doesn't take lightly that two of her former employees are trying to get the best of her, and maybe put her out of business. She retaliates with microwave tower technology, creating severe problems for the duo. Hayek can handle a dramatic role as well as her well-known comic turns. She even created her character's unique hair style --- with white tips at the ends of her brunette locks --- to denote power and control.
The filming of THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT, shot entirely in Canada, was not without its own potential peril. Temperatures were as low as 14 degrees, creating severe problems for actors, crew and equipment alike. The production notes stated that if anyone accidentally fell into the frigid waters while filming, more than 15 or 30 seconds of exposure could have been fatal.
This is a very ambitious film. Nguyen has taken what could have been a very dry subject and made it a character-driven adventure for moviegoers to enjoy.
Opinion: See It Now!