The Hummingbird Project probes into sticky, sharply topical ethical quandaries

Two traders (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård) compete with their old boss (Salma Hayek) to land a massive deal in this drama thriller. It’s a bit too scattered, Aaron Yap writes, but it earns some comparisons to Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher’s The Social Network.

The Hummingbird Project has all the makings of a wicked moral thriller. Its probe into sticky ethical quandaries inherent in the unchecked tech-driven colossus that is the modern era is, undoubtedly, sharply topical stuff. But writer/director Kim Nguyen, a competent hand but lacking the superior formalist chops of a David Fincher to elevate and galvanise the material, only gets there in scattered fashion.

As such, the film is low-boil Soderbergh-lite, a strange, curious shrug of a movie that nevertheless compensates with decent performances and an uncannily persuasive veneer of verisimilitude. Yes, going into The Hummingbird Project cold, I did wonder whether what I was seeing was actually based on some nutty true story.

The Fincher connection is almost unavoidable, given the presence of Jesse Eisenberg. His turn as Vincent Zaleski, a high-frequency hustler executing a get-rich-quick fibre cabling scheme, has more than a few superficial similarities to his career-defining performance as Mark Zuckerberg in Fincher’s The Social Network. Eisenberg is the perfect actor to force us to keep up with Nguyen’s thick Wall Street-speak, and communicate the thrill of the trade, but his live-wire moxie can only do so much heavy lifting.

Elsewhere, Nguyen doubles down on ticking-clock frissons, oiling the plot with Zaleski’s hulking on-the-Rain Man-spectrum cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) chasing those make-or-break milliseconds of lucrative data delivery. I can enjoy a bald, against-type Skarsgård nerding out as much as the next person, but he’s one of several elements, including a particularly schematic soul-searching development and Salma Hayek’s scene-devouring corporate rival, requiring a more graceful finessing of tone.