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The Social Network Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

Having gone through college while the ubiquitous Web site Facebook went from niche obsession to global phenomenon, I can say that I’ve spent far too many hours scouring its pages for status updates, newly posted pictures, event invites, and private messages. It has undoubtedly changed the way college students interact, and now it has its own feature movie. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? A movie about a Web site that was founded by an obnoxious twenty-something.

Well, I certainly wasn’t all that excited about The Social Network when I first heard about it. Even the dynamic duo of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin didn’t generate all that much enthusiasm from yours truly. But three phenomenal trailers later, and I couldn’t wait to see this film. It helped that early reviews compared it to Citizen Kane and The Godfather, among other all-time greats. So does it live up to the hype? The short answer is YES! It’s a very compelling film about the time in which we live and a man who impacted our time greatly. He’s not the most pleasant hero, but his story makes for two incredible hours of cinema, and all those involved should be proud.

While this film certainly is more than just “the Facebook movie,” it still is, first and foremost, about the founding of the irritatingly inescapable social networking site. In 2003, Harvard student and computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) was dumped by his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), an event that ended up changing the Internet and turning Zuckerberg into a billionaire. But that certainly didn’t happen overnight.

After his breakup with Erica, Mark went home and drowned his sorrows online, writing some demeaning blog posts about his now ex-girlfriend and creating a site called “Facemash,” which asked users to choose the hotter of two female Harvard students. The site crashed the Harvard network almost instantly and attracted the attention of the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer), popular and athletic twin brothers who are looking for a programmer to create a site they came up with, The Harvard Connection, which will allow Harvard students to connect with one another on the Internet.

Zuckerberg agrees to work with them, but instead, he goes to his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) with a similar idea—The Facebook. Essentially, it’s like MySpace, but exclusive. Only students with a Harvard e-mail address will be able to use it. Once launched, The Facebook becomes a hit. Everyone at Harvard is using about it, and Mark and Eduardo are the most talked-about students on campus. Once The Facebook expands, it attracts the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), party boy extraordinaire and founder of Napster. Sean wants this project to succeed, but his ideas drive a rift between Mark and Eduardo. This rift eventually becomes permanent, and the latter sues the former, who is also facing a lawsuit from the twins he screwed over years ago.

I’ve always been a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s fast, smart dialogue. The man knows how to grab your attention with his words, and his work here might just be better than anything he has ever done. But even more than the exceptional dialogue, the way he crafts his story is just masterful. The Social Network is so many things that giving it a label is almost impossible. It’s a drama, a coming-of-age character study, an examination of entrepreneurship and the things that often get tossed aside in the endless quest for more, and a look at who we are as a society in the digital age. This film succeeds because of a number of things, but in my opinion, number one on that list would be Aaron Sorkin.

The film’s opening scene sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come. Mara and Eisenberg expertly deliver Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, and the breakup scene shows us the kind of man Zuckerberg is better than any other scene in the film. Erica is clearly an apt judge of character: She calls Mark an asshole and she’s 100% correct. But he’s a pathetic asshole. He detaches as a defense mechanism. And no matter what he does to try to fit in, his insecurities overwhelm him so much that he distances himself from others even more.

Mark Zuckerberg is an absolute fascinating character played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg. I really didn’t think the young actor capable of a performance like this, but he’s great. This is a man who is completely driven, but he’s not driven as to make money as one might expect. Instead, the currency he seeks is status. And while he obtains a kind of superficial acceptance (thanks to Parker), he never gets what he desperately wants. In fact, everything he does moves him further and further away from true acceptance. Eisenberg pulls of all the complex layers of Zuckerberg exquisitely. He’s a fighter, energized at the prospect of finally being “cool.” But by the end of the film, he seems exhausted just being him—almost as if he knows he has defeated himself. I think this will be the defining performance of Eisenberg’s career, as he is another big reason the film succeeds. I also think he’s a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Eisenberg’s costars are uniformly excellent, especially Andrew Garfield. He has a scene near the end of the film in which he confronts his former best friend, and he’s just dynamite. It’s what gives the film an emotional pull (the proceedings until that point were, for the most part, a little distant). In this scene, things become clearer and we recognize Eduardo as this story’s tragic hero and Mark and Sean as its villains (though again, credit Eisenberg for making Mark a somewhat sympathetic villain). This scene just might land Garfield, who’s taking the reins from Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man franchise, an Oscar nomination, and he just might be there on Oscar night with none other than Justin Timberlake, who’s got just the right amount of charm to make Sean Parker tolerable to watch. He’s a scoundrel, no doubt, but Timberlake makes him a magnetic presence on screen.

You might not think this is the kind of film that would feature top-notch technical features, but the editing, score, and cinematography are all incredible. Fincher uses a slightly jumbled timeline to tell this story, intercutting between the main plot and the depositions. These scenes are cut quickly and flawlessly. The score, composed by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, is unique and moody without being too distracting. And the Jeff Cronenweth’s digital cinematography is gorgeous. It’s crisp and very dark—appropriate for a film like this.

There will be those who debate the events in The Social Network as filmgoers debate the truth behind any film that’s based on real events. What can’t be debated is this film’s expert craftsmanship. Sorkin and Fincher, with the help of a handful of perfectly cast actors, craft a tale that works on a number of different levels. It tells the story of a conflicted and fascinating young man while also outlining the rise of perhaps THE company of the Internet age and showing us what an obsession with social status can drive us to do. It doesn’t matter if you use Facebook or not, The Social Network will sweep you up completely from beginning to end.

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