Friday, October 1, 2010
Movie review: The Social Network
Dismiss this as just "the Facebook movie" at your own risk -- this is great stuff.
When news first came that there would be a movie made about the beginnings of Facebook, skepticism about the project was the prevailing sentiment. How in the world could anybody make the creation of a website compelling? But then came word about who the filmmakers would be – director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac), writer Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, TV's The West Wing), producer Scott Rudin – and things started to become more interesting. If people of their caliber wanted to be associated with the film, maybe it wouldn't be as bad as previously thought.
As it turns out, that's a huge understatement. From minute one, The Social Network is as fascinating a movie as you're likely to see this year. Even if it's only halfway true (the film is based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires), the story of how Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) came up with the idea for Facebook and made it into the Goliath it is today is one hell of a rollercoaster.
As the film tells it, Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard in 2003, started things rolling with an illegal website called Facemash that allowed students to compare the hotness of any two randomly selected women on campus (illegal because he hacked into dorm websites and stole pictures). Despite running afoul of the administration, the site put Zuckerberg on the radar of twins Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (both played by Armie Hammer through technological magic) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who want Zuckerberg's help in creating a site that would help members of exclusive Harvard clubs like the Phoenix and the Porcellian find and communicate with each other.
Zuckerberg, who recognized the bigger potential of their idea, proceeded to eschew that project and go about creating what he would call thefacebook.com, with the financial backing of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). What follows – the relentless growth of Facebook, Zuckerberg moving to California to brainstorm with new adviser Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) – results in a storm of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and accusations, culminating in two lawsuits, the proceedings of which are woven expertly throughout the film.
As portrayed by Sorkin and Fincher, Zuckerberg is essentially an anti-social being with obsessive qualities. His inability to be accepted into those exclusive Harvard clubs serves as a major driving force for him, and once he gets a taste of the good life via Parker, there's no going back. Several things keep him from being a completely abhorrent character, the first of which is Sorkin's patented rat-a-tat writing style. Conversations are held in rapid-fire style with overlapping dialog, which serves to illustrate how quickly the mind of Zuckerberg (and the multiple geniuses around him) functions. It's hard to hate someone whose abilities are so awe-inspiring.
This story is not as dark as, say, Seven or Fight Club, but it does examine the sometimes repellent lengths people will go to achieve their goals, and in that way, it fits perfectly in Fincher's oeuvre. Fincher's skills are on full display, especially in the cutting back-and-forth between lawsuit depositions and flashbacks to the actual events. Much of the film is as heart-pounding as any thriller, which is amazing given that there are many times where the “action” is Zuckerberg or others hard at work on computers. He's helped immensely by the music done by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Reznor (whose song “Closer” was featured in the opening credits of Seven) has created a foreboding soundtrack, much of which consists of just a barely noticeable background hum that gives the film an edge it might not otherwise have had.
He might consider this a backhanded compliment, but the anti-social nature of Zuckerberg is right up Eisenberg's alley. As seen in previous roles like Zombieland and Adventureland, Eisenberg's M.O. is to be low-key and relatively unemotional, two qualities that, ironically, make his portrayal of Zuckerberg shine. He's absolutely believable as he navigates his way from Harvard nobody to billionaire – don't be surprised if he garners awards season recognition. Also great are Garfield as Saverin and Timberlake as Parker. While their good looks may be what draws some people in, it's their acting chops that'll keep them enthralled. With Garfield set to star as Spider-Man and Timberlake hoping to break out from music, these are just the performances to put them over the top.
The Social Network can in no way, shape, or form be dismissed as just “the Facebook movie.” It's the best movie I've seen so far this year, and could prove to be a force come Oscars time.