Someone needs to have a word with the marketing department of The Hummingbird Project. From the advertising campaign it is reasonable to assume this film is a high stakes, futuristic thriller about Jesse Eisenberg, playing yet another misunderstood genius, working to overthrow Wall Street. In truth, The Hummingbird Project is about the pursuit of perfection and the realisation that it is not always possible to achieve said perfection. Life gets in the way, and ultimately, we are humans first and makers second.
Vinnie (Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) leave their jobs working for ruthless high stakes trader Eva Torres (Selma Hayek) to pursue Vinnie’s dream of building an impossibly straight fibre optic cable line from Kansas to New Jersey. This cable, and Anton’s genius coding skills, could allow them to receive information in 16 milliseconds. A whole millisecond faster than the rest of the world, and if they’re successful, this technology could make them millions. But Torres is hot on their heels working to sabotage their endeavour. What begins as a risky, all or nothing strategy soon becomes a race against time, money, and resources in the pursuit of the fastest internet speeds. It may appear to be a relatively small issue, but in a world where milliseconds become millions 1 millisecond is all it takes.
Eisenberg, as always, pulls off the complicated, flawed visionary easily and with great flair. Vinnie may not always be the most likeable character but you want to believe in his dream no matter how surreal his quest becomes. Alexander Skarsgård, hidden under a bald cap and large, rimless glasses is endearing as damaged tech genius Alton. One almost feels sorry that he gets pulled so deeply into Vinnie’s insane pursuit. They make an odd but balanced partnership. Yet it is clear that while Vinnie needs Anton, Anton would perhaps be better off if he had just told Vinnie ‘no’.
This film is all about juxtapositions. Vinnie and Anton inhabit a world of endless money and luxury which balances on a knife edge. Whereas they spend much of the film in sparse, uninhabited locations filled with greys and washed out greens. The transposition of this bubble of the high-tech, modern world into a rural habitat highlights the impossibility of their venture. Which is never more odd, even ridiculous, than when Vinnie attempts to convince an Amish leader to let them dig under his property to build their line.
Now, this does sound absurd. A Wall Street trader demanding that he be allowed access to people’s land for his own gain. Upon hearing Vinnie’s ‘two weeks of work, $230,000, never even know it’s there’ pitch your average American citizen would have no problem signing over whatever Vinnie wanted. But an Amish farmer has quite a lot to say to Vinnie about life and happiness. The dialogue is quite obvious when the Amish Elder (Johan Heldenbergh) tells Vinnie ‘we don’t think making things faster makes them better’. Still it makes a valid point about the nature of the film and the nature of our world. However the film is too preoccupied with Vinnie’s battle with Eva Torres to really explore it.
Running underneath this high stakes game of cat and mouse is a deeply personal and traumatic story that centres on Vinnie. Around the middle of the film Vinnie is diagnosed with stomach cancer. While it may feel like a departure from the promised film, this plot thread lends the story some emotional weight.
Yet it is also where the film goes from an adrenaline fuelled chase that one hopes would pay off like The Big Short to a doomed pursuit of perfection that Eisenberg must ultimately give up. Hummingbird defies expectations but it is surprisingly better for it. Even if it never gains the momentum one expects, it does succeed in making an example of its main character. We have enough high stakes thrillers on our screens. What makes this film different is that it is not an American hero triumphing over an establishment but rather a tale of how to cope when your one, incredible dream crumbles to pieces around you.
However, The Hummingbird Project has the first half of a thriller and the second half of an emotionally searing drama. With solid performances from the main cast and interesting choices surrounding which version of this story to tell. Still this is a story we’ve seen before and will see again. In our fast-paced, achievement, money driven, capitalist world there is always someone like Vinnie, and a genius like Anton who will follow him off a cliff.
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has just finished her first short ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied. Her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864