Published on March 22nd, 2019 | by Justin Smith0
The Hummingbird Project
Contemporary technology drama comes to the silver screen in the form of The Hummingbird Project starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, and Salma Hayek. The film’s premise is realistic enough: A pair of insiders at a big Wall Street company defect to start a project for a rival firm – to built a single fiber optic connection between a stock exchange in Kansas City and the New York Stock Exchange. This was realistic enough that my lack of knowledge on the history of Wall Street’s networking had me looking up later to see if there was any truth or basis to portions of the plot. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find anything referencing a Kansas City Stock Exchange. Unless they were referring to livestock? Because there was a Kansas City Livestock Exchange. Anyway, my biases up front – despite my clear lacking of aforementioned knowledge, I am a tech geek with experience in networking and related technology fields. So, a premise like this has a lot to attract my attention. There is admittedly much to enjoy about dramas regarding our contemporary plights in the realm of technology, because that’s where a lot of work is centered. Gone are the days of building railroads. But our internet infrastructure…
The film does a fairly good job representing the intense difficulty of such a project: it’s something like one thousand miles of straight line to run one fiber optic connection without obstruction. Most people would not think about what goes into making that into reality, which is the draw for most of the film’s conflict. I do however recognize that centering the plot on a large scale construction job of an internet cable doesn’t exactly scream excitement for most people; and this is especially true when the end goal is to shave off one millisecond from their current transaction times. Yet, this arguably ironic dynamic actually ended up being somewhat of a draw for me. Halfway through the film the question arises, “All this for just a millisecond of increased speed?” That’s the point though, and I wish the film would have delved deeper into these kinds of themes. This represents my chief criticism: all of the elements are here for a truly stellar drama but everything is explored at only a shallow or moderate depth. The characters have decent arcs, thrown some difficult challenges and curveballs to overcome, but Jesse Eisenberg’s character only briefly touches on the back-story that truly drives him, and while Alexander Skarsgård‘s character is more fully fleshed out his arc is essentially basic. I do enjoy the role reversal as one would usually expect to see Jesse Eisenberg playing the socially awkward genius programmer and Alexander Skarsgård to play the ambitious go-getter who runs the project, but they take opposite roles to great effect. The actors all do great here for the most part, including the excellent Michael Mando in a supporting role. My only complaint here is the acting dips a bit into melodrama later in the film, but this is mostly attributed to subplots that edge into the unbelievable.
Ironically Hummingbird Project works best at representing its core premise of what most would consider a mundane construction project. The actors do well, and I especially enjoy Alexander Skarsgård‘s portrayal of the lonely genius, but their underlying drama and back-stories are a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it works decently well while other elements do not – particularly late in the film. Sadly the themes at play are a bit too obvious and underexplored, but it is an appreciated attempt to represent a seldom explored aspect of contemporary industry.