The first time I saw the trailer for "The Social Network, I was intrigued. The haunting music over images of the Facebook experience bleeding into a pixilated image of Jesse Eisenberg may have hooked me instantly, causing me to mentally add the film to my "to-see" list. Then I learned the film was directed by David Fincher ("Seven", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") from a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing"), causing the film to shoot up to the top of the list.
I honestly don’t think there is a project that David Fincher could work on, especially when he has a screenplay from Sorkin that could be bad. They should make a film of an actor reading the phone book. I bet it would work.
"Social" documents the creation of Facebook. Using a number of legal proceedings as the framework, we hear various stories about the creation of the wildly popular website. In 2003, a Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) decides to take out his frustration at being dumped by his girlfriend and creates a website allowing students to rate female students. His friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield, "Red Riding: 1974", "Never Let Me Go") sees the potential in the site and they try to move forward. The Winkelvoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) approach Mark about helping them develop a social network site of their own. Soon, Mark and Eduardo have created a new website called The Facebook, designed to be used on college campuses by students. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, becomes interested in the site and tries pushing Mark to expand the site and his horizons. Eduardo doesn't like the new influence and steps back. Meanwhile, Facebook begins to take off and everyone starts to get greedy.
I was surprised about how much I actually liked this film. I was always going to like or appreciate it, but it turns out the film is almost great.
When you think about film, a visual medium, the idea of watching a bunch of computer geeks programming their computers sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. But it is a testament to the director and writer that this film is pretty exciting, very interesting and always holds your interest.
After breaking up with his girlfriend (phenomenal writing, Mr. Sorkin), Mark retreats to his dorm room and takes out his revenge in a way only he knows how; he begins to hack into various sorority and school websites and uploads pictures of their female students. He then sets up a program allowing other students to rate each of the girls. The website takes off and eventually shuts down the Harvard computer network. At one point, a lawyer (Rashida Jones, TV's "Parks and Recreation") asks "The site got twenty-two hundred hits within two hours?" Mark corrects her and says "Thousand". The lawyer is impressed and Fincher creates a fast paced montage depicting the creation of the site and the ensuing fervor.
As the film progresses, Sorkin and Fincher anchor us by using the various legal proceedings, everyone sues everyone else, as the framework for the story. At one point, the Winkelvoss twins' are giving a deposition, leading to a particular part of the story, which blends into the next part of the story, leading us to Eduardos' deposition in his own trial, leading to another moment in the story. This may sound a bit confusing, or a bit of a mishmash, but it works and helps us follow this complicated story.
Eisenberg creates a portrait of Zuckerberg as a lonely, petulant, emotionally under-developed young man. Everything he does seems to be the result of jealousy or a perceived slight. Eisenberg's portrayal is not very emotional, but this seems true to the character; he doesn't know how to express his emotions which is why he creates a website rating girls. Of course, as he becomes richer and richer, he only seems to become more and more petulant and difficult to reach.
Andrew Garfield, who must be "The Next Big Thing" given how many films he has coming out this year, is good as Eduardo Savarin, Zuckerberg's close friend and investor. Savarin experiences the most emotional upheaval throughout the story allowing Garfield to give us a showier, more interesting performance.
But that isn't really fair. Zuckerberg is portrayed as emotionally stunted, for the most part. Because of this, Eisenberg appears more reserved, more distanced. It is a testament to the film and the actor's portrayal that we feel anything for him at all.
Justin Timberlake is good as Sean Parker. Timberlake has turned in some better than average film performances setting him apart from most of the other pop stars who think they can act. In "The Social Network", his portrayal of Sean Parker makes him seem like Svengali. As soon as he meets Zuckerberg, there is a glint in his eye as he quickly accesses everything he can do for the fledgling entrepreneur and everything his new associate can do for him. He wants to help Zuckerberg make money, but Parker also wants respectability.
"The Social Network" is the most straightforward of any of Fincher's films. This is also a compliment to the director's skills, he can dial back the special effects and unique graphic treatments he has used so successfully in his previous films demonstrating to us that he is more interested in creating a memorable film. If the film doesn't warrant the special effects or treatments, it isn't necessary and he doesn't need it.
"The Social Network" is a very good film, and especially prescient as Facebook grows even larger and more influential.