When your protagonist is motivated by greed, it’s hard to care about them; those days – of Gordon Gecko proclaiming “Greed is good!” – are gone. Sometimes, we’ll buy into greedy protagonists if there is humour and truth: The Big Short (2015) was excellent, but a lot of the enjoyment of that film was in knowing that it was, essentially, a true story. That film was adapted from Michael Lewis’ book, and Lewis knows how to make economic bandits seem interesting. His 2014 book Flash Boys even managed to make the arcane practice of front-running investor orders during high frequency trading by utilising ultra-low latency direct market access somewhat intriguing. But The Hummingbird Project, a completely fictional story about such traders (and seemingly using Lewis’ book not as source material but as material to rip off), lacking humour and truth, is just about greedy people, and we simply don’t care whether their cable makes their money travel faster or not.
Alexander Skarsgård manages, at least, to somehow deliver an interesting performance as a stereotypically odd, socially stunted savant coder. Not so Salma Hayek, left screeching and floundering in a role that, since it’s been written as a woman, by a man, seems pretty misogynistic. If this had been a film based on real people – which it kind of feels like it’s pretending to be – then Hayek’s shrill, vindictive Boss Lady would have had to be a woman. Here, in a fiction, the fact that the film’s least likeable character – by far – is its only major female one smells really bad. It’s a nasty role played ludicrously, but, really, could Hayek have played it well?
The film actually gets worse as it goes on, with a sickeningly misjudged development for the third act designed to jolt us into empathy for the lead Greed, played by Jesse Eisenberg with typical insouciance. It doesn’t work in the slightest, being the cheapest kind of screenwriting trick; instead it makes the film’s long final act one of the most punishing I’ve sat through in a while. By the end, I was truly rooting for these guys to fail spectacularly, like the movie they’re in.