Friday, October 1, 2010

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an asshole, or he's at least trying his damnedest to be one. That seems to be the central point of The Social Network which gives us a traditional tale (genius without people skills, rise to power by stepping on your friends) with a fresh take, several good performances, and some darn fine dialogue by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

In the film director David Fincher and Sorkin team-up to adapt Ben Mezrich's 2009 nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires about Zuckerberg's life and the creation of a little thing called Facebook (maybe you've heard of it?). The film tackles everything from friendship to cut-throat business tactics and class warfare.

We begin with a lengthy pre-credit scene involving Zuckerberg's break-up with his girlfriend Rooney Mara which will lead to the drunken creation of his first social networking site later that night, and lay the foundation for the later creation of Facebook. It's a great scene to start, though both actors seem to struggle initially with the pace and tempo of a very wordy Sorkin scene.

The film is structured between flashbacks of the events surrounding Facebook's creation and success with two later lawsuits Zuckerberg faced involving his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer - providing the face of each twin through CGI, and Josh Pence as the stand-in) each of whom claim Zuckerberg screwed them over. According to the film, they have excellent cases.

The Social Network makes quite a few interesting choices, some of which may cost them at the box office but help craft the film's style. The first is to allow Eisenberg to play the film's main character as an unrelenting, and completely unlikable, self-centered bastard. There's no redemption for this geek who who sacrifice anything, and anyone, in his quest to be cool.

The second is to allow the nerdiness and technical expertise of the enterprise to be shown, but not always explained. During Zuckerberg's early drunken programming sessions the film shows us not only his writing code but the mathematical formula behind one of the processes without ridiculous visuals (see Hackers) or dumbed-down techno-speak (see most Hollywood films).

And third, the script decides to not overplay on the celebrity or the importance of Facebook more than is necessary to explain what it is and why it is so valuable. If you're not a fan/user of the social media site there's nothing here to prompt you to seek it out.

Eisenberg is tasked to carry the film and constantly act as self-centered as humanly possible. He succeeds on both counts. Garfield has the harder role playing the friend of such an individual who accepts Zuckerberg's many faults - until he's burned by them. Hammer is terrific in the dual role that includes many of the film's funniest lines. Justin Timberlake has a memorable role as Napster creator Sean Parker, by far thesleaziest character of the film, and craziest with the possible exception of Brenda Song as the stereotypical bat-shit crazy girlfriend.

The Social Network is a good film with some great moments. It's solid throughout and an easy recommendation. I enjoyed myself, even if I felt the ending was a little unsatisfying. It has much to say on current business culture, the costs of friendship, technological innovation, and programmers such as Zuckerberg. In a strong year it's likely The Social Network could get overlooked, but it finds itself in a position that could allow it to make a little noise come award season.

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