CREDIT: The Orchard

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Mando, Salma Hayek, Sarah Goldberg

Director: Kim Nguyen

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for The Profanity of High-Stakes Finance

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

The Hummingbird Project has one of the most stunningly esoteric premises of any theatrically released movie I have ever come across. So it’s a bit of a small miracle that it actually manages to be halfway compelling. It helps that the execution is straightforward, but that is also what holds it back from being truly memorable. Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader whose dream is to build a fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey that is efficient enough to decrease the time that information currently travels over that distance by one millisecond. But is that really his dream? Is that really anyone’s dream? His cousin and partner Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is just as committed to the goal, but he essentially has a healthier perspective, treating it as a game or a code to crack. For Vincent, this is really about proving to the world that the little guy can come out on top, but his obsession has led him to turn the meaning of this highly specialized thing into the thing itself, when it actually represents normal human desires.

I imagine that many viewers will have the same reaction to Vincent and Anton that I did, which is to want to assure them that one millisecond cannot possibly be that important, no matter how many millions it will make them over the long run. Their pursuit is fundamentally maddening, though Eisenberg and Skarsgård make it palatable by tuning their performances to a sensitive enough key. It also helps that the script underlines how much they are doing this for a better family life. Vincent keeps reminding Anton that this job will ultimately lead to a charming, country mansion. Their desires are simple, really, as Vincent also promises that he will take Anton’s daughters out for ice cream once they return home.

Unsurprisingly, then, for a number of reasons, it turns out that Vincent is doing this all for his father, a Russian immigrant who was shaken down by government types on suspicion of being a communist spy. That led Vincent to learn that he needs to be so good at what he does that the people in charge cannot possibly deny it. This is a fairly unique version of the trope of attempting to please your parents after they’ve died, but it is not reason enough for Vincent to practically kill himself with his single-mindedness. It is a bit of a marvel how much relatable meaning can come out of this premise, but is still so esoteric as to have been seemingly made for one very specific theoretical viewer, and that viewer is not me.

The Hummingbird Project is Recommended If You Like: The specifics of laying down fiber-optic cable

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Milliseconds

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