With The Hummingbird Project, Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen has created possibly the first stock market fraud thriller to be set predominantly in a rural environment. Nguyen, who was previously nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for War Witch, assembles a relatively prestigious cast for a low-budget film of this nature, including Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, and Better Call Saul’s Michael Mando. The film concerns two Russian-American cousins, Vincent (Eisenberg) and Anton Zaleski (a heavily de-prettified Skarsgård) who work as ultra-high-speed commodities traders at a brokerage owned and run by Eva Torres (Hayek). Vincent decides to leave the brokerage to build a pipeline that will transfer trading data from Kansas to New York City within 16 milliseconds (the amount of time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wing), rather than the 17 milliseconds currently possible.
He believes that he will be able to get rich by having this technological advantage over other brokerages and enlists the technically more gifted but interpersonally less advanced Anton in his venture, convincing him to leave his job to join him in the venture also. The pair get funding for the pipeline from semi-corrupt financier Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion) and head out to Pennsylvania to oversee its construction, Anton concentrating on its coding and Vincent overseeing the project management with the assistance of engineer Mark Vega (Mando). However, they incur the wrath of Torres, who vows to wreck the project in retribution for what she sees as an act of betrayal by two employees who are using skills they developed under her tutelage to jeopardise her business and line their own pockets.
Whilst the film is akin to films like Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Margin Call in generic terms, in terms of narrative and character development, it is more like Bullitt, Dirty Harry, or one of Michael Mann’s cop thrillers. This is because it portrays characters who are so resolute and single-minded in terms of their dedication to accomplishment of a professional goal(s) that a terrible toll is exacted upon their personal lives and personal relationships. Eisenberg brings the same sort of borderline psychopathic geekery to his character that he brought to his performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Skarsgård is cast effectively against type as a nebbishy, bullied, possibly autistic coding genius, and Hayek is effective as a ruthless businesswoman.
Nguyen directs at a pace that keeps the viewer engaged, with Quebec and Ontario doubling for the Pennsylvanian countryside credibly. He manages to generate unexpected humour from Anton’s personality traits and the starkness of the film’s setting reflects the ever-diminishing likelihood of him and Vincent achieving the gargantuan, unreachable goal they have set for themselves. The film is not as entertaining as The Wolf of Wall Street, as dramatic as Wall Street, or as funny as The Big Short, but it does convincingly depict the conflicts between the over-arching ambitions of a Type A personality and the introverted technical genius of a Type B personality that manipulation of the financial markets can entail. The Hummingbird Project is available to download and stream now.