Greed isn’t such a bad thing if you seem like one of the good guys.
At least that’s part of the takeaway from The Hummingbird Project.
Jesse Eisenberg — initially full manic energy form but with more delicate shades emerging later — plays Vinny, a stock trader with a plan to shave a fraction of a second off trading time by running underground fiber-optic cable from Kansas to Wall Street.
Yes, a tunnel from Kansas to Wall Street.
Accompanied by his code-writing cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), Vinny manages to line up funding and starts secretly buying up land rights, coordinating equipment and crews, and bringing the seemingly absurd project (remember, there are mountains in the way) to fruition.
Vinny sells his project as a David and Goliath story, and the film is most interesting when that line is blurred. Is there really anything noble about Vinny and Anton’s actions? Up to a point, there’s not a whole lot of moral difference between them and their former boss, Eva (Salma Hayek), who gets wind of the project and tries to outmaneuver it.
Both want to make a fortune. Neither is driven by values. It’s about winning.
The mechanics of the plan keep things interesting, such as Vinny’s efforts to acquire the land from myriad owners (including an Amish farmer) and Anton’s desperate and isolating efforts to shave a millisecond from the transfer time. The mix of brainpower and physical needs necessary for the project create believable, buyable obstacles.
The film falters, though, when writer-director Kim Nguyen shifts Eva into full evil mode. As Vinny and Anton and their chief engineer (Michael Mando) show more humanity (I won’t spoil with details), Eva shows less. The delicate reality that Nguyen creates doesn’t quite fall, but it wobbles significantly.
A film that believably stacks the odds again its main characters doesn’t need a cartoon villain.