Coming on like a true-life story (it’s utterly made up), Kim Nquyen’s film is built on a distinctly unpromising hook — the race to run fibre optic cables — but still morphs into an entertaining if familiar tale of plucky entrepreneurs taking on big business. A showcase for the nervy talents of Jesse Eisenberg — the techie milieu calls to mind The Social Network — it manages to say important things about slowing down in a world that is increasingly spinning too fast.
The Hummingbird Project is set in the world of high finance, where billions of dollars can ride on getting priceless data just a tiny bit ahead of a competitor. Two cousins, business-like Vincent (Eisenberg) and computer coder Anton (Skarsgård), work for ruthless hedge fund manager Eva Torres (a cartoony Hayek) and have the idea of creating a fibre optic tunnel from Kansas to a Wall Street New Jersey data bank that could speed up the flow of information by a millisecond — or the speed of a hummingbird’s single wing-beat — and put them ahead of the game. Yet, rather than share their idea with Torres, Vincent and decide to go it alone and make their fortunes for themselves.
At this point, as Vincent and Anton resign, much to the ire of Torres, the film dives — sometimes far too deeply — into the minutiae of laying fibre optic cables, hiring engineers and raising finances as well as the practical challenges of digging through national parks, private homes and a steadfast Amish community who do not want their land disturbed. These obstacles are sharpened by Torres, who sends legal threats and corporate spies to disrupt their progress, and its in the race to complete the tunnel that the film finds its stride.
Hunched over and balding, an almost unrecognisable Skarsgård lays on the nerdy tics with a trowel almost to the point of caricature. But this is Eisenberg’s show, driving the film on his fast-talking energy yet finding different, more stoic notes when Vincent is hit by serious illness. Nguyen also adds a feel for character and detail, his empathy keeping formula at bay.