Movie Review: The Social Network
. . . to those who screw other people over. Wait a minute! That’s not how that expression goes. However, in these times of highly dubious corporate dealings, stock swapping and market meltdowns, one could easily make the case that this is how the expression ought to read from now on. The Social Network is an alleged rendition as to the rise of one of America’s most ingenious inventions (Facebook) and its alleged creator (Mark Zuckerberg). The subject matter alone had people lighting up the message boards as Facebook has become more than a cultural phenomenon; it has become a pandemic. The frequency and ferocity of the endless amount of users plugged in to this “social” network is unprecedented and in some cases, quite disturbing. The significance of Facebook is undeniable despite its full potential, as of yet, not having been realized. As with any entrepreneurial home run, it is rarely clobbered without the aid of others and the wounded egos of many. Thus, director David Fincher brings us to the drama of Facebook.
This film’s screenplay, masterfully written by Aaron Sorkin, is based on the book written by Ben Mezrich who probably cashed in every favor through the good old boy network that is Harvard University to get the real story (or as much of it as possible) regarding the fallout of fellow Harvard mates Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins. The structure of this story features a constant flashing forward and backward between an ongoing lawsuit against Zuckerberg and a reenactment of past events that are being called into question. Those with a penchant for non-linear storytelling will find this film a piece of cake to navigate, while others may be lost within the first 15 minutes. To describe the pace of this film as rapid would be the understatement of the decade. However, this is by no means a weakness of the film as there is a hefty amount of exposition and technical jargon in the beginning that isn’t entirely necessary to follow, but important to understand that the inventing process of Facebook was very disjointed and cold. Whether you believe the filmmakers or not as to the validity of the alleged history of Facebook, the story features the number crunching and code writing as such to parallel the equivalent level of impersonal calculation that was apparently behind the evolution of the partnerships that were formed in the process. Trust, or rather a lack thereof, seems to be a recipe for disaster in any partnership as history tells us and is perhaps the most important theme of this film. The dialogue throughout is equal parts witty and snotty (thank you Harvard) and makes no apologies painting every character short of Eduardo Saverin as the very definition of ego-maniacal and makes for some very welcome comedic breaks in the process. Best line of the film belongs to one of the Winklevoss twins in relation to hiring someone to beat up Zuckerberg: “I don’t have to. I’m 6’5” 220 and there’s two of me!”
Of course, solid writing in a dialogue driven film will only get you halfway without acting performances that are equal to the task. Surprisingly, this happens to be the case for The Social Network. Because let’s be honest, the only things an average film fan will know about a cast that features Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake is that one of them used to be in N’Sync and date Brittney Spears. That would be Timberlake if anyone was wondering. Garfield’s biggest claim to fame is being cast as Peter Parker in a very questionable Spider-Man reboot from his high school years. And Eisenberg is frequently regarded as Michael Cera 2.0 by yours truly. Cast your preconceptions aside for these young men because their individual and collective performances draw you in and make you believe. Despite this film being largely about the effects that the unholy triumvirate of sex, money and power has on individuals, it is a bit disappointing that male roles dominated this film. Sorry Brenda Song, you’re extremely promising, but women were clearly defined as little more than play things amounting to 33.333% of the motivation for all the male antagonists. Which, by the way, is the only way to describe all the characters because sympathy for someone in The Social Network is one thing this film has no concern with whatsoever.
But if one had to select a hero, that role is fulfilled by Eduardo Saverin played by Andrew Garfield. Garfield, along with many of his British brethren, has no problems shedding whatever English accent he has to produce an effectively confidant American smart guy. Every other character is developed through various degrees of ego and aggression while Garfield takes full advantage of the conditions his character is all but assigned: sadness and pity. There are some genuine moments where I found myself ready to send real sympathy his way, but then I’m reminded of how he comes from money and is suing Zuckerberg for $600 million dollars.
Justin Timberlake does a very adequate job portraying Napster founder, Sean Parker. Although Justin’s commercials with Peyton Manning and his stints on Saturday Night Live have proven his comfort with comedy, The Social Network called upon him to dial up the sleaze and he did not disappoint. Whatever you may or may not know about Parker, Timberlake channels an effective combination of used car salesman plus politician plus pimp to give you a completely unforgiving depiction of the man. Somehow, Timberlake plays this role a little too well.
Special recognition to special effects coordinator, Steve Cremin, for making the illusion of the Winklevoss twins appear seamless. Sure, some cheesy things like their hair being combed different ways to accentuate their difference existed, but I was aghast to learn that both roles were played by one actor: Armie Hammer. When both were in the same frame, it was so natural and this effect amplified a fine performance by this unknown actor who demonstrates elitism as second nature to his characters. Besides the social awkwardness of Zuckerberg, the Winklevoss twins provide the lion’s share of comic relief.
One of two things produces a great performance: 1) a great actor or 2) a great role for a certain actor. The latter is true for Mr. Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg. It is in this film where Jesse takes a large step away from the frivolity that is Michael Cera and truly become his own man. Eisenberg made a name for himself with comedies like Adventureland and Zombieland (both in 2009) but this film required him to make a drastic shift in demeanor towards everything and anything that evokes an intellectual Nazi. Eisenberg rattles line after line with the kind of autistic staccato that constantly makes you snicker, but then the audience realizes that everything he just said amounted to a giant F.U. to whomever he was speaking with. Zuckerberg may have come from slightly more humble beginnings than his Harvard cohorts (displayed by his apparel choices throughout) but he is every bit the elitist as every other character which truly begs the question why Mark Zuckerberg ever found himself to be that socially disconnected so as to prefer the virtual community to his actual community.
The Social Network is a very smart and entertaining film that gives you some take on the drama that surrounded the creation of Facebook. It’s the kind of film that makes you raise an eyebrow to the concept of 20 something billionaires, any and all corporate dealings, true entrepreneurship and anything that comes out of Harvard. This film is eerily reminiscent of the TNT/TBS mini series: Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) regarding the formation of Microsoft and the conflict between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Is it ironic that Gates himself makes an appearance in The Social Network? As for the overall feeling this film leaves you with, I believe I will allow Lt. Col. Frank Slade to sum it up with a few quotes from Scent of a Woman (1992):
“Makers of men, creators of leaders – be careful what kind of leaders you’re producing here.”
“A bunch of runny-nosed snots in tweed jackets all studying to be George Bush.”
“It’s f*ck your buddy, cheat on your wife, call your mother on Mother’s Day. It’s all sh*t Charlie.”