The Social Network

Who knew that Facebook's genesis could be so engrossing?

When it was first announced that David Fincher of all people was going to be directing a film about Facebook, I counted myself among those who presumed Fincher to have pretty much lost his mind. How can a film about the founding of Facebook be at all interesting, especially so soon after the events of its creation transpired? That the project is not only a success but one of the year’s best films is a testament not only to Fincher’s talent as a director, but also his seemingly perennial ability to surround himself with incredibly astute, like-minded collaborators.

Beginning in 2003 at Harvard University, The Social Network introduces us to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as he is told summarily by his fuming girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), “you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd…[but] it’ll be because you’re an asshole”. This one quote seals Zuckerberg’s double-edged fate as the founder of Facebook; driven to create something momentous to compensate for his social ineptitude, a juvenile website that compares the attractiveness of female students soon snowballs to gradually become what we know Facebook as today. However, that journey was not without turmoil; Zuckerberg had to juggle two concurrent lawsuits, one from his co-founder and friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whose shares in the company were crassly dilluted down to virtually nothing, and also Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both played, with the help of CGI, by Armie Hammer), who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea.

From the venom-filled pen of the acclaimed The West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network operates less as a light campus drama and more as a brooding political thriller the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1970s, in works such as All the Presidents Men and The Conversation. Though playing out as a finely-tuned conspiracy thriller in style and tone, the game is so very different in terms of actual content; the techno-centric nature of the argument only heightens the paranoia and complicates the situation on all sides, while an issue as simple as ownership is rendered agonisingly ambiguous here, with each party having both fair points and infractions. That the squabbling is all over a website is immaterial during the vicious courtroom scenes, but Sorkin importantly (especially as far as his Oscar chances go) takes his screenplay further, making it a witty, funny, scary monument to the very different world we now live in as a result of Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous creation.

A great deal of actors could have made good work of Sorkin’s brilliant script (which will win Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards), but it is nevertheless difficult to imagine anyone other than the excellent Jesse Eisenberg playing Zuckerberg. Taking the awkward, quirky kid role he has honed to the next step, it is here less of the attempt to ape Michael Cera that we have seen before (Zombieland) and instead something more textured and altogether better; a jittery, barely composed rendition of an ADD-suffering, impatient, brilliant genius, and of course, of an asshole. Placed upon a considerable pedestal by Sorkin’s script – which has Zuckerberg reaming out just about anyone who challenges him, with razor-sharp retorts – Eisenberg nevertheless rises to the challenge, and is himself very likely to recieve a Best Actor nomination.

In fact, just about everyone acts their hearts out in The Social Network, and aside from Eisenberg, the most stirring turn comes from the superb Andrew Garfield, who has impressed in a variety of roles up to this point (Boy A, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus), and continues with his best and most memorable to date, as Zuckerberg’s kind-hearted but naive co-founder Eduardo. Garfield plays the part perfectly, garnering enormous sympathy for his character’s maltreatment, yet also conceding vulnerability when the narrative calls for it. Again, if there is justice, he will recieve a Best Supporting Actor nomination, with his Oscar reel clip being an intense final confrontation between Eduardo, Zuckerberg, and Sean Parker at Facebook’s offices.

Speaking of Sean Parker, the biggest surprise of all comes in Justin Timberlake’s thoroughly charming turn as the infamous Napster founder. Very quickly brushing away the stink of stunt casting, Timberlake doesn’t exactly stretch himself or play against type, but he is absolutely effective in replicating his stage persona on-screen; that is, being a slick, high-rolling, suit-wearing bad-boy who, in this story, attempts to seduce Zuckerberg with the allure of Silicon Valley. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and in the aforementioned showdown with Eduardo, he is deliciously snide.

Less a generation-defining film and more a film about what has defined our generation, The Social Network is a superbly sexed-up account of  how Facebook came to be, and a pungent examination of how it changed all of our lives overnight (that, the more connected we are technologically, the more disconnected we become in terms of actual discourse). Sorkin’s classy script, Fincher’s seamless direction, all of the performances, Reznor and Ross’ searing score, the most technically precise editing since Inception, and even some unobtrusive visual effects (used to render Armie Hammer’s dual performance) make for a thoroughly entertaining chronicle of our times, and one that is not quite the year’s best for this critic’s money, but it is the type of smart, insightful, socially conscious film that wins Best Picture. At this point, it is the front runner.

The Social Network opens on Friday, October 15th.


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