The Social Network *****
…or ‘Facebook: The Movie’? The idea behind The Social Network, a story about the creators of Facebook, is certainly not one that many would have ever expected would get made into a Hollywood movie and likely no one would have thought that such an acclaimed director as David Fincher would be the man at the helm if it did.
Yet, The Social Network has been made and David Fincher is indeed the director. So, what attracted the director of Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to do this movie? Well, that would be the impressive screenplay – based on the book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by non fiction author Ben Mezrich, the same author who wrote Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions which the 2008 film 21 was based on – by The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, a script that was making this film one of the most talked about projects in Hollywood even before production actually began. And now it’s on release, the film has not only become one of the most talked about movies of the year but also one of the best reviewed with the incredible word of mouth that it has generated thus far having even prompted the emergence of Oscar buzz, this film currently being a favourite of quite a few people to clean up at next year’s Academy Awards. With impressive credentials not only behind the camera (in addition to those individuals aforementioned Kevin Spacey is an executive producer) but in front as well – the cast is headlined by the cream of the crop of young acting talent, headlined by (anti-Michael Cera) Jesse Eisenberg) with support from Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer among others – The Social Network is a film that truly does live up to its hype and may just deliver on its Oscar buzz.
Harvard University 2003. Social reject and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is a geek with a capital G! After being dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) over his obsessive need to be accepted by the exclusive ‘final clubs’, a drunken bout of computer hacking brings him to the attention of both the university’s top brass and the entrepreneurial twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). They are trying to build a site called the Harvard Connection, a social networking site that will be exclusive to Harvard students. Mark agrees to help but, stalling, he secretly begins developing a project of his own, with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) financing the endeavour. He invents Facebook and promptly sets off a chain of events that will change all their lives forever. The site is a massive success and with the help of scheming Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) they take the site global, making Mark the world’s youngest billionaire in the process. However, Mark finds his phenomenal dotcom success leads to legal problems when the Winklevoss brothers take him to court for stealing their idea and Eduardo, who has been forced out of the company, also files legal action. He may be a high-achieving entrepreneur with millions of online friends but he finds that in the real world things are not quite so straightforward.
It’s not hard to see why The Social Network has gotten onto the radar of the Academy Awards. This is a film that blends style and sophistication with popular culture and relatable themes, something that is truly engrossing to the younger cinemagoers out there without the need for explosions or special effects like so many Hollywood movies these days. It really is refreshing that the only action in this film comes in the form of battles of words and yet the film still manages to be a riveting and constantly engaging viewing experience. The real heart of the film is undoubtedly the writing and Aaron Sorkin’s script is excellent in every single respect. You might not think that the story of the creators of Facebook would be a very exciting or interesting one but you would be wrong. The real life story behind the film has it all, the subtitle of Ben Mezrich’s book – “A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal” – proving to be a very accurate summisation, and Sorkin doesn’t miss a single opportunity to capitalise on all the potential that the real story brings to the table. This is drama at its very best, the story offering conflict, emotion, betrayal, humour and real depth and dealing with very real issues which many will hold some appreciation and understanding of, not to mention being packed full of unique and individual characters, each with their own quirks and flaws – essentially real breathing human beings rather than just two dimensional made up characters. Of course, it helps that what we see here is all based on real people but the level of sophistication demonstrated in the character development is a true testimony to the strength of Sorkin’s writing and not forgetting the actors of course. Every character is a true individual and the performances that bring them to life truly are excellent. Jesse Eisenberg delivers his best performance to date, portraying the central character of Mark Zuckerberg as an anti-hero, a character who often comes across as a condescending asshole (“You’re not an asshole. You’re just trying so hard to be” says one character) but never comes across as a ‘bad guy’ exactly or even a nice one, rather just a flawed human being and certainly the kind of character who many will probably be able to relate to on some level. His almost one sided friendship with best friend Eduardo is entirely believable thanks to a good dynamic between Eisenberg and co-star Andrew Garfield, there often being a sense that Mark is just using Eduardo but at the same time their being a sense that there is a stronger bond hidden. Garfield himself also delivers a very strong performance. The other standout performance comes from Justin Timberlake who perfectly balances natural coolness with a more self serving backstabbing streak, portraying the character of Sean Parker as a more natural bad guy type but so slick and suave that no one realises it. The great acting doesn’t end there either with Armie Hammer excelling as both Winklevoss twins, one being the perfect gentlemen type while the other is the more get the hands dirty type, the characters being identical in appearance but completely different in personality and the brotherly dynamic naturally being flawless. Elsewhere in the cast, Rooney Mara is a strong presence despite her limited screen time and Brenda Song (playing Eduardo’s borderline psychotic girlfriend Christy Lee) shows that she is far more than just that annoying spoilt rich girl from Disney’s Zack and Cody with a truly serious performance. Every single line delivery is spot on perfect with Sorkin providing smart and witty dialogue that really zings, allowing for conversations that are intense and engaging, something that is crucial given that much of the film consists of characters talking to one another. This film really does demonstrate the power that simple words can have. The way that Sorkin manages to incorporate technical computer speak into conversations without coming across as pretentious or condescending – things that the central character certainly seems to be at times – is also impressive, the film managing to seem genuinely smart and insightful and perfectly understandable to the average viewer at the same time and in the way that never feels like anything has been compromised. As well as being an interesting character piece the film also gives plenty of insight into exactly how Facebook came to be, offering a glimpse beyond what many take for granted and demonstrating exactly how Facebook rose from its subtle origins to become such a global phenomenon. In the past you may not have put much thought into nipping onto Facebook to check on the status of your friends but after seeing this film you will undoubtedly have a whole new outlook. The story structure is also very effective, the film cutting between three different points in time – the two different legal hearings and the events leading up to the creation and success of Facebook – in a way that feels completely organic, the storyline flowing effortlessly from one scene to the next, even as events are jumping between different times and places. One thing’s for sure – with a plot as complex and intricate as this and a script that works so superbly, this film definitely deserves the inevitable Oscar nomination for writing. On the direction front, this is not the typical David Fincher movie. Like with many film directors, Fincher has developed a certain filmmaking style over the years and one that has come to be distinctively recognised as his but here he has broken out of this established style and delivered something that is completely fresh for him. This is not a bad thing but rather a very good one as what he has delivered here works perfectly in unison with Sorkin’s script. His visuals perfectly compliment what is happening on the screen adding a certain lustre to simple conversations, the cinematography often being rather dark with grey/blue tones at times, something that gives the film a somewhat oppressive look and feel, which proves particularly effective in portraying the seedier side of the respected academic institution that is Harvard University. This is certainly a film as distinctive in appearance as it is in the writing department. So, all in all, The Social Network is a stylish and sophisticated drama that proves to be truly riveting and engaging, even for the kind of viewers for whom drama might not normally offer much appeal. Witty and insightful, this is a film that truly does deserve all the stellar recognition that it has received thus far and it is definitely a strong contender for next year’s Oscars.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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