REVIEW: The Social Network [2010]

“Farm animals …”

We all might have shook our heads when dark noir extraordinaire David Fincher signed up to direct this so called “Facebook Movie”, but in a matter of five minutes all reservations are rendered moot. It begins with a Mamet-esque tit for tat between Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg (perfect casting anyone?) and his soon to be ex-girlfriend Erica, played by Rooney Mara. Don’t get me wrong, Aaron Sorkin is no screenwriting slouch, the Mamet notion just popped into my head and I say it complimentary. The cuts between the condescending Zuckerberg and Erica’s lifted veil of clarity into what kind of a person her significant other is are fluid, non-invasive, and fully showcase two young actors on the top of their game with relationship strife laced in snide humor. And there will be plenty more of that to go around once The Social Network continues after the night-setting credit sequence of Eisenberg awkwardly running to his dorm room for a little Live Journaling about the split, set to a brooding score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Wars have commenced on behalf of a lady scorned, but one shouldn’t belittle the behemoth created from this college blow-up. The world was forever changed as a result.

Based on the novel The Accidental Billionaires by journalist, and Harvard alum, Ben Mezrich, whose Bringing Down the House inspired the insipid 21—Sorkin is thankfully much more successful here—this film is a perfect melding of biography, law drama, and power-grabbing destruction. For someone who invented an artificial world where strangers can collect thousands of friends with the press of a button, Mark Zuckerberg saw his insane drive for notoriety cause him to have but one. And keeping Eduardo Saverin would prove too much when a mere shred of humility was the only cost. The Social Network is a tale of Icarus flying way too high and way too fast, not for the money—this guy wears a hoodie, shorts, and sandals to business meetings—but for glory. When he’s told he can expand to the West Coast, to colleges across a nation, to Europe, and then the world, even though he knows he can’t keep up, the prospect is too much to ignore. Over-extended, over-worked, and easily manipulated with dreams of rockstar potential, he never sees the personal damage laid before his feet, the means to an end, until too late.

But here’s the rub—despite Eisenberg’s cloaked humanity behind the character’s calculated genius, he’d probably have done it all exactly the same if given a second chance. Saverin, (another fantastic turn from Andrew Garfield), is written as the victim with his big dreams, small returns, and constant backseat status. Considering his side of the story played a big role in Mezrich’s documentation, this isn’t hard to believe. The best friend of a conqueror, Eduardo’s fatal misstep was in trusting an intellectually vain soul lacking the capacity to show selflessness. This whole endeavor began as a means for petty revenge to prove he could become popular despite his inadequacies, winning the race to connect the world to each other, becoming a hero for his trouble. It doesn’t matter whether he procured the idea from elsewhere or received the necessary capital in good faith from a friend; he, Mark Zuckerberg, congealed it all into a billion dollar enterprise. Perhaps he ends up alone in his tower counting money he has no interest in spending, but he can say, without a doubt, “I’m the CEO, bitch”. And that’s truthfully what he wanted. Whether it’s enough is for a future film to depict.

Told via flashback hearsay at dual depositions, we see the story of Facebook’s creation and its evolutionary leaps from Facemash to HarvardConnection to The Facebook to the incarnation we all love/hate now. It is Saverin, the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer in a brilliant dual role), their partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), and the accounts of others not in attendance who we see disputed truths from, all played out to the audience while Zuckerberg sits and doodles, waiting for it to end. Eisenberg’s matter-of-fact delivery sitting amongst lawyers and former friends may corroborate the façade of him being uncaring and ungrateful, but it also shows him to be a pragmatic, albeit smug, young man who knows exactly what’s going on and remains unafraid to call it like he sees it. Sure, the Winklevoss brothers have a legitimate claim to the intellectual property of the idea and Saverin was strong-armed out, but in all honesty, they made their own beds. While it may still be a lack of compassion on the part of Zuckerberg to wade through the bad blood and vitriol, I just can’t say I disagree with him. Would I have the constitution to watch the one person in the world who believed in me dismissed unceremoniously? No, that ability, I think, is reserved to only a select few.

The film does an amazing job of concisely and clearly facilitating a ton of information at once. Formatting it around the closed-door meetings between lawyers and plaintiffs was a smart decision, uncovering the pertinent information as needed in context to the plot. Being able to see the emotions and actions of young kids with too much power opposite reaction cuts of the same, rehashing memories with months of time to contemplate and harbor regret, adds just the right amount of humanity to what becomes a dark story of position jockeying, backstabbing, and hatred—it’s right up Fincher’s alley after all. The true tragedy ends up being Zuckerberg’s honest words about not hating anyone; it’s simply unfortunate he holds court with those who do, such as smooth talking, Napster creator Sean Parker. In the role, Justin Timberlake distances himself from a music career fast becoming inconsequential with yet another composed acting turn. The wedge driving Mark and Eduardo apart, he is an enigma of success wrapped around the paranoid, insecure coward beneath. Watching him react to a mock punch from Garfield and on the phone with Eisenberg towards the end shows just how self-fabricated a man can be. It’s a complicated and integral role that Timberlake crafts with somewhat limited screen time.

A showcase for some of the finest young adult actors working today and the vessel to tell the behind the scenes push and pull of a cultural phenomenon, The Social Network also proves David Fincher is securely a Hollywood heavyweight. Cutting his teeth in music videos like so many other greats within this generation of filmmakers and surviving the debacle that was Alien3, this guy showed early on how high style enhances substance. With Zodiac, Benjamin Button, and now this, he, like Zuckerberg, is in the driver’s seat of creative control. Honing his skills over the past decade, there is a new versatility and desire to seek out disparate projects while retaining flourishes of his trademark artistry. Watching his camera pan left from outside a house party to the action inside, the music’s volume increasing as we shift through the wall, reminded me of Panic Room’s transitions, only less flashy. The mood he sets stays intact, adding to the story rather than overshadowing it, the darkness surprisingly appropriate for a film that on the surface appears to be a couple spoiled Ivy Leaguers letting money ruin friendship. Who knew Facebook’s genesis was in fact an entertaining, emotionally wrought, and Oscar-worthy subject?

The Social Network 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Andrew Garfield, left, and Jesse Eisenberg stars as “Mark Zuckerberg” in Columbia Pictures’ THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
[2] Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Justin Timberlake in Columbia Pictures’ “The Social Network.”
©2010 Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] Armie Hammer stars as Cameron Winklevoss in Columbia Pictures’ The Social Network (2010)

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