Friday 14 June 2019

"The Hummingbird Project" (Guardian 14/06/19)

The Hummingbird Project **
Dir: Kim Nguyen. With: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando. 111 mins. Cert: 15

At last, the starry drama about fibreoptic cable-laying the world has been crying out for. Part of me wants to cut this enigmatic drama from Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen some slack for going out of its way to disprove the notion there are no longer any truly original concepts in North American cinema: it’s markedly distinct from anything currently showing, and you’ll be amazed anybody heard this pitch and thought to open a chequebook rather than, say, calling security. Yet scene-by-scene, Nguyen’s sketchy question-mark of a film proves so leftfield it risks seeming esoteric or – with its technical dialogue on the matter of “neutrino messaging” – openly baffling, the kind of verbose corporate parable David Mamet would sit down to write only after a heavy night on the sauce.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Vincent, an ambitious day trader pumping his resources into digging a tunnel between Kansas and New York, a scheme designed to tap stock market data a millisecond faster, and thus turn him a sizeable profit. To this end, he has recruited his nervy coder cousin Anton, played – in the first of many bizarre choices here – by Alexander Skarsgård beneath a bald pate that immediately recalls BBC arts editor Will Gompertz. Skarsgård wasn’t alone in spending long hours in hair and make-up puzzling over this script: Salma Hayek, as the ruthless CEO the pair aim to undercut, has her lustrous locks dipped in grey paint and offset with NHS specs. Eisenberg, meanwhile, contends with tummy trouble, for Vincent’s burrowing sets off rounds of doubtless symbolic intestinal distress.

What can it all mean? The business of rewiring America for personal gain feels secondary to Nguyen’s vision of characters who, for all their efforts to connect, appear deeply alienated. Around the neutrinos, one spies some conventional messaging about faster communication not necessarily equalling better communication. Yet it’s so erratically delivered you suspect scenes have gone missing; Vincent’s unhealthy obsession is conveyed via a Morse code of Eisenbergian yammering. It’s a rare misfire that makes one want to see more from its maker: we get intriguing ideas, images and locations, and enough close-ups of excavation equipment to enrapture plant-hire enthusiasts. With few narrative or thematic hook-ups, though, I guarantee a lot more headscratching before this working definition of a curio.

The Hummingbird Project opens in selected cinemas from today.

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