Two cousins embark on a high-stakes plan to beat Wall Street
Dig a narrow tunnel for a fibre-optic cable - in a straight line - from a data exchange in Kansas to New Jersey. That's the highly ambitious plan of Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), two cousins from New York. The pair want the quickest connection possible - the speed of one flap of a hummingbird's wings - in order to clean up in the world of high-frequency trading.
Vincent is a fast-talking salesmen and Anton a quiet, socially awkward computer coding genius. Both work at a high-frequency trading firm, presided over by a ruthless boss named Eva (Salma Hayek). The cousins hatch their plan clandestinely whilst they are still working for Eva's firm. Vincent engages an engineer (played by Michael Mando) to lead the tunnel project and the cousins hand in their letters of resignation.
Backed by deep-pocketed investors, Vincent gets to work. And it's a fair bit of work. There are property rights to secure, numerous tunnel boring crews spread out across the countryside, and problems like drilling through granite mountain ranges. Meantime, Anton is holed up in a hotel room in an effort to shave off more speed by refining the cousins' computer code.
Vincent soon faces logistical problems with the tunnel. An Amish farmer refuses to cede land rights through his property. Drilling though a national park (as you would imagine) proves fraught with bureaucracy. And everything costs more than originally planned, leading Vincent's investors to baulk at the rapidly increasing bill.
But the biggest problem comes when the cousins' former boss gets wind of their plans. Eva launches a campaign to destroy their tunnel and initiates a competing construction plan that will leave the fibre-optic cable scheme redundant. Add in a health scare for Vincent, and his aim of completing the tunnel seems increasingly like a pipe dream.
Directed by Kim Nguyen, The Hummingbird Project is a slick and pleasing thriller. Although the story and characters are entirely fictional, real world events such as Wall Street's embrace of high-frequency trading are lurking in the background. The film explains all this and even questions the benefit of a system where speed leads to riches. But it stops short of getting too deep and meaningful.
And that's because the film's fun lies in the race - whether the two mismatched cousins can defeat geography, technology and their old boss and complete their tunnel. The performances of Eisenberg and Skarsgård help with this - the duo are just so odd and determined you want them to succeed. Salma Hayek also does well with Eva, and it's pretty fun to see as she turns increasingly psychopathic when faced with the intransigence of her former employees.
The Hummingbird Bird doesn't always hit the right notes. There seems to be a mismatch of tone at times - it doesn't know whether it wants to be a fast-paced, caper-driven genre piece, or if it wants to slow down, look at its characters closely and seriously say something about the strange and perverse world big finance has created.
But this is still better-than-average fare. A vivid and engaging film about the quest for accomplishment, and about whether it's all worth it.