Film reviews

The Hummingbird Project – VIFF 2018

Our coverage of #VIFF2018 begins with Kim Nguyen's The Hummingbird Project...

Following the success of Adam Mckay’s financial crisis expose The Big Short (2015), it was only a matter of time before another non-fiction Wall Street-focused Michael Lewis title got the silver screen treatment. Well, sort of. 

Flash Boys (2014), Lewis’ look at the recent phenomena of high-frequency trading (HFT) in and around United States stock exchanges, revealed to the layman the the value of mere milliseconds in modern stock trading, as well as the literal great lengths financial organizations and maverick individuals would reach for to gain that all important edge on the competition.

The Hummingbird Project, written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen, dramatizes Flash Boysbeat for beat in places – primarily concept and narrative – but is not an official adaptation. Seeking to cut the roundtrip time of a single trade order to 16 milliseconds, cousins Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) scheme to fund and build a 1,000-mile long fibre optic cable between the servers of the Kansas City and New York Stock Exchanges. Standing in the way is their former boss and sociopathic trader Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), who aims to beat the cousins to the punch with an even faster method of HFT.

Right from the word go the problem with The Hummingbird Project is that it lacks the more interesting side of the HFT story: the high-frequency trading itself. Instead, Nguyen centres on what what essentially boils down to the trials and tribulations (none of them unexpected) associated with a complex construction project stretching 1,000 miles across the wildly varying terrain of the United States’ mid-west and eastern regions. The cut-throat world of HFT does rear its head, but for the most part it’s shallow and simplistic (personified by Torres), and often muddles the tone, switching from tense and absolutely straight to increasingly cartoonish events and bouts of humour.

That’s not to say it isn’t funny – it is – with Skarsgård’s bald capped, slow-motion celebratory bopping raising a hearty chuckle in the wake of Anton sitting in a dark state of depression for the majority of the runtime, but like much of the final act’s humour it feels like a shoehorned substitute for the lack of dramatic payoff from the main story. Skarsgård – who appears to relish looking and acting nothing like his usual casting choices –  is indeed on form throughout, while Eisenberg dips into his Zuckerberg profile for a similar, if far less-memorable performance.

An interesting concept lacking consistency and depth in its execution, The Hummingbird Project will go down as a rainy Sunday afternoon flick. If you want an intriguing construction-minded drama, Tom Hardy’s one-man show Locke (2013) should be higher on the list. A window into the madness of modern day Wall Street? The Big Short of course. And if you want to combine the two as The Hummingbird Project tried to do, well, just read Flash Boys.

The Hummingbird Project will be released in the UK some time in 2019.

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