Right off the bat, The Social Network is not ‘Facebook: The Movie’ as smartasses and stand up comics have been calling it. This is not a movie about people using Facebook or Facebook as some kind of sentient, heroic program that saves the world or a cute plot device for characters to awkwardly chase girls and reacquaint themselves with people who didn’t give a shit about them in high school. This isn’t a goofy film about internet dating or anything like that. This movie is not about Facebook itself. Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, the Social Network is a serious film about the drama surrounding the creation of Facebook and the ruined friendships and lawsuits that followed. I am going to make this as plain as possible. If you avoid this movie because you think a movie about Facebook is stupid or that it is Facebook: the Movie, not only are you missing out on the best film of the year but you are a fucking idiot.
The narrative jumps around through time between showing what happened and the characters responding to questioning in two separate depositions in two separate lawsuits against Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). The first lawsuit is by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) for intellectual property theft and the second by Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) for 600 million dollars. The bouncing back and forth in the narrative may sound convoluted and confusing but this style is right in Fincher’s wheel house and he delivers an engaging and interesting film that never drags and always compels.
This narrative style also allows for a variety of perspectives on how things happened and why and the result is a film that feels very even handed in its treatment of events. This sense of fairness, which allows for everyone’s side of the story to be told, does not particularly soften any of the characters or make them more likable. There has been some criticism that this may be some kind of PR maneuver to humanize and soften Mark Zuckerberg in the wake of Facebook’s questionable security changes but the people who level this concern have clearly never seen the movie nor are they familiar with these filmmakers. Aaron Sorkin has said in interviews that the goal was not to demonize Zuckerberg and the aim was to be even handed. This even handedness is evident but it is also pretty evident that Zuckerberg in the film is at worst a fucking dick and at best a man who becomes the youngest billionaire in the world but who is a broken and jealous man who will never get what he wants no matter what he achieves. This is not some puff promotional piece and Zuckerberg has called the film and the book upon which it is based, the Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, works of fiction and has done some counter PR for himself. It is sort of hard to soften a dude who created the biggest social network in the world based mostly on his desire to get back at his ex-girlfriend and who seems to have stolen the basic idea from other people (out of resentment for not being on the rowing team or being invited into their final club) and then may or may not have taken elaborate revenge on his best friend for being chosen in a final club that Zuckerberg wanted to get into. Zuckerberg here is a cold and driven man who is petty and broken despite talent and intelligence.
The writing here is crisp, snappy and always interesting. I admit that I am a big fan of Sorkin (West Wing, Sports Night, a Few Good Men, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), but this may be some of his best work yet. The dialogue feels real and natural and the story is very well told structurally. The writing is also very funny without diffusing any of the drama. This is something that Sorkin always excels at and it is one of the main reasons I like him so much. The material presented here could have been very dry and very lifeless but here it breathes.
Great writing is all well and good but if it is mishandled by poor actors it is all for naught. There is no such problem here as the performances are top notch across the board. Jesse Eisenberg really goes a long way to remove himself from the ‘poor man’s Michael Cera’ rep he has gotten and steps up to deliver a performance that feels very authentic and real. I am not sure how Zuckerberg himself feels about it but Eisenberg is very convincing. Even better is future Spider-man Andrew Garfield as Saverin. Garfield offers a Saverin who is deeply hurt by what has happened to him but doesn’t shy away from Saverin’s less sympathetic moments. More than anything he feels like a real guy trying to keep himself involved and solvent when he has a partner uninterested in money and more interested in petty vengeance on as grand a scale as possible. Justin Timberlake is also great as Napster creator Sean Parker who becomes the the ostensible villain of the piece and who drives a wedge between the two friends and who helps do what Saverin was trying to do the whole time but on a much grander scale. Watching Timberlake in this role makes you forget about the pop star altogether and just accept him as Parker which is obviously a pretty impressive feat. Armie Hammer is great as Cameron Winklevoss and apparently also as Tyler Winklevoss’s head. This digital trickery is absolutely perfect as you really can’t tell that there is any trickery going on. Hammer makes every scene his is in better and is a joy to watch.
The score for the film by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross fits the material perfectly and sets the mood just right. You can hear strains of Reznor’s style in the music but that never overshadows the music itself nor does it distract from what is happening on screen. Fincher’s films are often very strong on the score and this one is no exception. This music completes the total package and becomes the icing on a perfect cake.
Conclusion [10 out of 10]
The Social Network is a compelling and expertly made drama about the creation of a website that most people reading this use several times a day. The story being told is interesting and it is told in an even handed and engaging way. To avoid this movie because you think you are too hip for Facebook or because you think that the story will be boring then you are going to miss out on a truly great film. Every aspect of this film fires on all cylinders and in a growing batch of great movies this year it is far and away my favorite. It helps that it is made by my favorite director and one of my favorite writers but it is an example of why I love them as opposed to admiring the film because of them. This is hands down the best drama of the year so far.