Saturday, May 14, 2011

"The Social Network" (2010)

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by David Fincher
Rated R - Language
Running Time: 121 Minutes

The Social Network (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]I've said once or twice recently, "In a few years, Facebook will be the Internet."  Think about that.  You can't go to a website out there and not find a button to share whatever content you see on Facebook.  Celebrities have official Facebook pages.  My 10 year high school reunion was organized via a Facebook Event.  Film studios rent movies via Facebook.  Stores and companies sell merchandise directly from their fan pages.  You can blog on Facebook.  You can find long-lost friends and relatives.  You can bully people to death.  In a few years, Facebook will be the Internet.  But only a few years ago, it was nothing.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Harvard sophomore who has just been dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara).  Drunk and upset, he goes back to his room, blogs angrily about her, and, in a fit of inspiration, creates a website in just a couple of hours that is so popular it brings down Harvard's computer network.  Not long after, he's approached by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, playing a dual role via some really awesome visual effects) who have an idea to create a website that would allow Harvard students to share information about their lives with each other on the Internet.  They form a partnership with Zuckerberg to create this website, but what he does instead is go off from that idea and spin it into his own creation: The Facebook.  

Obtaining a small investment from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg spends the next month or so creating The Facebook, and when the site goes live and proves instantly popular, the Winklevoss' are not pleased.  As time goes on, and Facebook becomes more and more popular, they grow more desperate in their attempts to get retribution on Zuckerberg for his perceived betrayal.  Elsewhere, the relationship between Saverin and Zuckerberg begins to sour.  As CFO, Saverin wants to introduce advertising to the site in order to monetize it, which Zuckerberg resists.  Once Facebook expands to schools in California, they get the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who years before had created the popular music sharing program Napster which had very publicly self-destructed when (sadly) Metallica (my favorite band) led a music industry uprising that claimed that Napster users were stealing their music and depriving them of millions of dollars in revenue.

Parker and Zuckerberg immediately see eye to eye on what to do with Facebook, but Saverin increasingly finds himself left out of the loop on the latest developments, even as he attempts to secure what he believes will be lucrative advertising dollars for the still-fledgling website.  Ultimately, Zuckerberg must deal with two lawsuits against him - one by the Winklevoss twins and the other by Saverin while also dealing with the fact that Facebook's popularity is exploding worldwide, and what that means to him, his relationships, and his business partners.

Whether "The Social Network" is factually accurate is besides the point.  Much debate has been made about it, and I've mentioned similar notions in my review of "Ip Man" about whether or not heavily fictionalizing a story is a debate worth getting into.  I won't do that here.  My job is to review "The Social Network" as a film, not as a historical document (which it's not).  Other people can debate the merits of whether or not this lessens the film. 

As David Fincher often does, he's delivered another truly fascinating drama.  While "Zodiac" was a very methodical look into the investigation of a serial killer and how it took over and ruined lives across decades, "The Social Network" is a zippy, hip film loaded with fast dialogue (screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's trademark) and peculiar editing techniques that help it tell its story only semi-chronologically.  Throughout the course of the film, we see Zuckerberg, Saverin and the Winklevoss twins at depositions for the two lawsuits, which leads to the majority of the film being told in flashback format, sometimes intercutting very quickly between flashback and the present day, even to the extent of completing sentences in two different time periods.  At first, this can be a little confusing and disorienting, but once you get used to it, you realize how clever a technique it is, and the film uses it to great effect.

The cast is, without a doubt, excellent.  Jesse Eisenberg, who I thought was great in "Zombieland" and "Adventureland" (weird...) is once again great here.  He's still got a sense in my mind of being a more dramatic Michael Cera, but here crafts a much less loveable personality than he has in previous films.  This fictional Mark Zuckerberg is a fascinating character because, well, he's not really the hero of the story, is he?  Given his behavior, you might even call him the villain as he continually undermines the success of others.  At one point, Saverin accuses him of all his behavior being motivated by jealousy and resentment.  Indeed, the very first big thing that Zuckerberg does in this movie is angrily lash out at his ex girlfriend on the Internet (which the film pointedly remarks on later).

Zuckerberg, for all his understanding of the Internet and how to create a social experience with it, has almost no concept of social mores.  That is, he simply can't understand why other people care about the things they care about, and he can't relate to them because of that.  At the beginning of the film, Erica tells him, "You're going to go through life thinking girls don't like you because you're a nerd, but the truth is they don't like you because you're an asshole."  When he's charged with breaking Harvard's online security, he says they should be thanking him because he exposed holes in that security.  Make no mistake that this Zuckerberg is a genius, and a devious one at that - but he can't interact with people in a "normal" fashion.  He can't understand why people get upset with him for the things he says or does.

Andrew Garfield (now shooting Marvel's reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man" as the titular hero) is also excellent as Eduardo Saverin, the business savvy but technologically dull company CFO.  Garfield is excellent at alternately conveying his anger over what he sees as Zuckerberg's betrayal, and his lament at having lost a friend.  Over the course of the film, in the flashbacks he grows increasingly frustrated by Zuckerberg's continued marginalization of his position, while in the present day testimony he grows increasingly sentimental.  It's an intriguing setup, and one that both he and director Fincher handle deftly.

Armie Hammer plays both Winklevoss twins through a fabulous mixture of old and new-school effects.  There are times where simple editing is done, and then there are times where Hammer's face has been digitally grafted onto a body double, and the effect is absolutely 100% seamless.  I knew going in that the film had used this technique, and I looked for the problems, but I didn't see any.  The film's effects are pretty stellar.  Though many people don't see this as a movie requiring extensive effects work, it was - that entire rowing sequence?  Fake.  Yep.

Fincher has an ability to create this wonderful images in his films.  I don't know how he and his DP do this, but they somehow manage to make everything just look freaking gorgeous.  One shot early on of Zuckerberg crossing the Harvard campus at night caught my eye as a shot I'd love to know how it was lit and accomplished because it looks so surreal.  I rarely see real life that looks like that.  It reminded me greatly of several scenes in "Zodiac" that had a similar feel to them, a sort of unreality to it that is also so incredibly detailed, real, and beautiful.  If I were a cinematographer and watching this, I'd go apeshit.  The film is a solid two hours, but zips by with very few moments to catch its breath.  Though primarily a film that gets by on its dialogue, the film rarely feels "talky" since the dialogue zips by so quickly.  There are perhaps a few too many "haha we're talking clever" moments, such as Justin Timberlake's introduction, but overall this is a great, peppy script that never feels dull.

"The Social Network," though it may not be a realistic depiction of the creation of Facebook, is still a fascinating and deeply entertaining take on the material.

See Also
Ip Man
Fight Club