PLOT Two men attempt to build a stock-trading cable from Kansas to New Jersey.
CAST Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek
RATED R (language)
PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas and Stony Brook 17
BOTTOM LINE A believability problem hampers this potentially fascinating story about the high-tech Wild West.
Kim Nguyen’s “The Hummingbird Project” oozes potential. The story focuses on high-frequency trading, a computer-driven method of trading stocks at low margins — perhaps a fraction of a cent — with such speed and volume that profits can multiply into millions of dollars. Earlier this decade, news coverage of high-frequency trading raised alarms about regulation and unfair technological advancements. When the dust finally settled, it all began to look like another internet-era fad.
It’s a fascinating backdrop for a tragicomic story, which is exactly what “The Hummingbird Project” aims to be. Its protagonists are the Zaleski cousins, fast-talking Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg, playing to type) and the mathematically brilliant but otherwise dim Anton (a bald and barely recognizable Alexander Skarsgård). Together, they hatch a seemingly insane plan: installing roughly 1,400 miles of fiber-optic cable between stock exchanges in Kansas and New Jersey. If the line is unwaveringly straight (that’s Vincent’s job) and the computer program fast enough (that’s Anton’s), the Zaleskis can bring their trading time from 17 milliseconds to 16 — an infinitesimal edge that will make them exponentially wealthy.
Nguyen’s movie hits many of the right notes. There’s poetry in its title, which refers to Anton’s dream of a quiet country house with the pitter-patter of little wings. The grand madness of the undertaking is also appealing, a herculean task that could become the stuff of empire or a multimillion-dollar folly. When the cable runs up against the one homeowner who can’t be bought off (an Amish elder unimpressed by money and talk of “progress”), we feel Vincent’s sweat pop and his blood-pressure rise.
Meanwhile, a ruthless competitor, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), is pursuing a rather smart-sounding alternative: microwave signal towers.
Here’s the rub: This story isn’t true. Though real events surely inspired Nguyen’s screenplay and the details have an undeniable authenticity (it’s all rather nicely written, too), the Zaleskis are fictional and so is their project. This makes the whole affair seem less remarkable than random. Did some real person actually try to do this? If so, who? If not, we’re being asked to marvel at made-up numbers. In the end, “The Hummingbird Project” simply doesn’t work as well as planned.