David Fincher’s The Social Network is an exquisite film, a terrifically engaging and articulate recount of the legal and personal woes that tormented the early days of the internet phenomenon known as Facebook. Penned by acclaimed scribe Aaron Sorkin (adapting from the 2009 novel “The Accidental Billionaires”), The Social Network tells this real life story with a delicious combination of slick dialogue and skilful characterization, the enterprise only made sweeter by the presence of David Fincher, who renders a potentially dry story thrilling with his captivating visuals, perfect editing and deep understanding of what made this particular event in technological history a subject worthy of cinematic focus. It’s not the lawsuits. It’s not the clubs, drugs or parties. Heck, it’s not even the computers. What allows The Social Network to be such a tremendous film is the richness of its characters and the surprising poignancy of the emotional discontent that ran riot behind closed doors.
After a series of brash statements cause his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) to break-up with him, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) proceeds to get drunk, and more importantly create a misogynistic website that makes a fool out of the entire female Harvard populous in a single evening. Following a slight reprimand by the college, Mark attains a negative image on Campus due to his actions, but also stirs the interest of the Winklevoss twins (both portrayed by Armie Hammer), two champion rowers with internet aspirations of their own. After hearing their concept of a Harvard exclusive dating site, Mark accepts the challenge of helping them build it, but is in turn simply inspired to pursue the construction of his own social network, labelling it Facebook. With a steady cash flow provided by buddy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) Facebook quickly becomes a major hit, with both Eduardo and Mark enjoying an explosion in both their social and sex lives. However as Eduardo attempts to push for advertising revenue, Mark prefers that Facebook remain independent, hip and cool; their friendship frosting over slightly as a consequence. Sensing a chance to exploit the situation, charming entrepreneur Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) steps into the fold, pandering toward Mark’s viewpoint and subsequently leaving Eduardo out in the cold. With the Winklevoss twins seeking blood, and Eduardo becoming increasingly wary of Sean, it isn’t long before the law suits start flying and everyone begins scrambling for a piece of the social networking pie.
It’s hard to say just how much of The Social Network is fact, after all its source “The Accidental Billionaires” was written with only Saverin’s side of the story in mind. The real Mark Zuckerberg took nothing to do with either that book or this film, instead leaving Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher to decode the man as best they could. No matter how accurate their depiction of Zuckerberg is, the version seen in The Social Network is an undoubtedly compelling and well crafted screen entity, conveying a multitude of emotions all held together by an undertone of insecurity. Embodied beautifully by Jesse Eisenberg (who steps convincingly outside of his comfort zone), Zuckerberg is the key figure here, the actor finding a mesmerizing balance between nauseatingly repugnant behaviour and a feeling of genuine sadness and remorse. It’s impossible to sympathise with the character during every scene, but on the whole he certainly leaves an imprint, and by the film’s conclusion it’s hard not to feel at least some semblance of pity for this interpretation of the world’s youngest billionaire. Andrew Garfield is equally effective and combines nicely with Eisenberg to sell their crumbling relationship, the English actor bringing an attractive sincerity to the role. Justin Timberlake’s turn as Sean Parker is decent, but the singer does on occasion overplay his character’s more villainous traits, particularly in an otherwise brilliant exchange between Zuckerberg and Saverin toward the picture’s finale. Armie Hammer does an admirable job of playing two separate screen personalities believably, whilst Rooney Mara is sufficiently engaging in her few short scenes. Following her terminally bland work in this year’s remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, this performance at least provides a glint of hope that she hasn’t been completely miscast in Fincher’s own upcoming retread of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Sorkin’s writing is filled with buzzing dialogue and heated debate, adding a real spark and vitality even to the most exposition heavy sequences. However it’s his wielding of universal themes and his exemplary exploration of the central relationships that power this project’s brilliance, packing hefty emotional weight and plenty of identifiable feelings into The Social Network. The fact things begin due to the actions of a girl call to mind the classical writings of Homer and “The Iliad”, whilst the deteriorating bond between Eduardo and Mark is rendered moving due to the intensity of Sorkin’s scribbling and the deft performances both Garfield and Eisenberg provide. Betrayal, love and regret are facets that dominate this particular motion picture, all of these far more prominent than Facebook’s actual birth.
Aside from drawing fantastic performances out of his cast, Fincher also shoots “The Social Network” creatively, jumping between the origins of the legal implications and the ongoing law suits themselves. This adds a tasty sense of variety to proceedings, and allows the director to further dissect the people at the heart of the plot. The filmmaker’s splicing of the past and present is ingenious, providing soulful snippets of the conclusion to highlight the various character shifts and narrative contortions that occur throughout. Visually the film is sublime, possibly more restrained than its director’s previous outings, but certainly artful in its depiction of college life. Fincher also miraculously makes watching geeks fiddle on their laptops more exciting than most Hollywood blockbusters, a true testament to the man’s talents.
The musical score by Trent Reznor is delightful, the former Rock idol finding a unique and strangely addictive sound for this marvellous feature. At exactly two hours The Social Network also benefits from expert pacing, telling the story with heart and depth without overstaying its welcome. The Social Network is a grand achievement in cinema, and easily amongst 2010’s most rewarding and immensely watchable motion pictures. I strongly urge that everyone seek out this masterfully told tale, and be held in awe by some of the most talented filmmaking minds currently populating our planet.
The Social Network is out in UK cinemas 15th October.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Ben Mezrich (book The Accidental Billionaires)
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Max Minghella, Arnie Hammer, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones
Runtime: 120 minutes