The Hummingbird Project (4 stars)

The Hummingbird Project

Quirky, intriguing tech drama from Kim Nguyen, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård

Revelling in the precise minutia of its technological geekery while also taking a deep dive into the far more complex realms of human endeavour, The Hummingbird Project is a quirky, intriguing drama which largely rests on the strength of its leads. It's also something of a cautionary tale – a reminder, perhaps, that we should pause to take a breath on our endless march to the future.

As high frequency Wall Street stock traders working in the shadow of the 2007 financial crisis, cousins Vinnie (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) know that speed is everything; when you're dealing in data worth billions of dollars, a millisecond can be the difference between fortune and failure. That's why they decide to go it alone and build a fibre-optic cable in a dead-straight line between the (fictional) Kansas Electronic Exchange and New Jersey – a distance of 1,000 miles that will require tunnelling under homes, rivers, protected forest land and the Appalachian Mountains.

Writer-director Kim Nguyen's detailed script makes little concession for any viewer unfamiliar with the inner-workings of data delivery, but the film is less about fibre optics and more about human connection, particularly that between Vinnie and Anton. As Vinnie's vaulting ambition pushes the project forwards, Anton's dogged commitment to computer code ensures their speeds will crush the competition – which includes their furious former boss, Eva Torres (an enjoyably steely performance from an underused Salma Hayek), who is determined to beat the boys at their own game.

Eisenberg is excellent, his naturally taut body-language and mile-a-minute speech capturing Vinnie's unwavering determination which borders on obsession. For him, getting to the end of the line is as much a psychological necessity as a practical one; the shadow of his late Russian immigrant father looms large in every decision. And, as Anton, a practically-bald Skarsgård is by turns laser-focused, a Rain Man-esque genius and an outlandish comic foil; to Skarsgård belong the film's biggest laughs, as he freaks out on an aeroplane, or dances down a hotel corridor in his dressing gown.

As well as trading on the affectionate relationship between its leads, The Hummingbird Project also neatly explores the delicate balance between man and nature. It's no coincidence that 16 milliseconds – the speed at which data will make its round-trip from Kansas to New Jersey – is also the time it takes for a single flap of a hummingbird's wing.

Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc contrasts the wide expanses of America's midwest with the twisting landscape of computer wires; an underground tunnelling shot segues with Vinnie undergoing an endoscopy; thin roads snaking through dense forests become the data cables on which we now rely for communication. Editing, by Nicolas Chaudeurge and Arthur Tarnowski, is similarly sleek, with fast cuts and time jumps underscoring the unrelenting pace of progress – and the fact that it's a short hop from cutting-edge to obsolete.

Less subtle is an on-the-nose altercation with an Amish farmer, who is resolute that Vinnie will not have his land – 'We don't believe that making things faster makes things better' – but the point is valid nevertheless. In fact, Vinnie and Anton would do well to remember the words of another film protagonist: 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.'

General release from Fri 14 Jun.

The Hummingbird Project

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 1h 51min
  • Directed by: Kim Nguyen
  • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek
  • UK release: 14 June 2019

Vinnie (Eisenberg) and cousin Anton (Skarsgård) decide to build a dead-straight fibre optic cable from Kansas to New Jersey to help speed up financial trading. A quirky, intriguing cautionary tale with fine performances and sleek editing, exploring the delicate balance between man and nature.