Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg the disputed creator of Facebook, in what is thus far the best film of the year – The Social Network. Don’t let the subject matter fool you. While the technology is new, the story is as old as time – love, loyalty, betrayal. Set in the present day, we see the film’s protagonists giving depositions in two separate civil suits regarding the creation of Facebook. As these depositions dissolve into flashbacks we learn that Zuckerberg is the focus of each suit; the first of which was brought by the Winkelvoss twins, Harvard elites who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea. The second, and more painful, suit is brought by Eduard Saverin (Andrew Garfield) – Zuckerberg’s former best friend and original Facebook CFO. While Saverin, a fellow Harvard undergrad, has a gift for finance, his youth belies his business acumen. As Facebook’s membership expands exponentially he is unable to keep pace and Zuckerberg is torn between faithfulness to his friend and devotion to his dream.
Eisenberg, who is so often (and wrongly) dismissed as a poorman’s Michael Cera, should once and for all shake off that mantle. His performance is nothing short of brilliant. In his hands, Zuckerberg becomes not the cold-hearted, ruthless bastard the media typically portray him as. Instead he is a (possibly) borderline autistic, socially inept genius so blinded by his own inspiration that he is completely oblivious to the ramifications his actions have on his relationships with others. It’s this interpersonal ineptitude, combined with a staggering intellect and a withering wit, which leaves a trail of enemies in his wake. Throughout the film, he honestly appears to be unconcerned with money except as a means to an end, i.e. funding more of his ever expanding vision. A trait he shares, perhaps counter intuitively, with none other than Walt Disney.
Like Disney (the man, not the company) his goal isn’t wealth, it’s success. And while those two typically go hand-in-hand, he’s not looking to make a quick buck. And he was given (and he rejected) numerous opportunities to do so. In Facebook, Zuckerberg created quite possibly the most important advancement in communication since the telephone. And while it’s easy think someone would have come up with something like it eventually, Facebook managed to unseat earlier (and similar) arrivals such as MySpace and Friendster; upsetting the conventional wisdom that it’s better to be first than be best. It has swiftly and insidiously infiltrated almost every facet of people’s lives. The site has reached such critical mass that even those who aren’t on it are still affected by it. Facebook is important and it deserves (and gets) an important film.
Since 1983’s War Games, Hollywood has a long and rich history of making movies that revolve around the internet and general all-around computer hackery. Sadly most of these films had little actual knowledge of the technology they purport to regale us with and would rapidly devolve into extended scenes of people spouting techno-babble while typing. Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin have combined to give us a film that masterfully navigates this minefield. Sorkin’s script is sharp, informative and positively crackles with excitement. Even as his characters bombard us with both exposition AND technological tutorials he manages to inject scenes with wit and verve. And while there has been (and will be) much debate over the origins of Facebook, Sorkin goes to great pains to present us with truth. Not “the truth” mind you, but “truth.” As the screenplay toggles back-and-forth between various competing perspectives, Sorkin uses the literary device of “unreliable narrators” to great effect; creating a story with much conflict but no real villain. Much like life, each character is the hero of his own of his story.
Meanwhile Fincher (with a nice assist from the score provided by Trent Reznor) keeps the film visually stimulating. The three come together to do what no filmmakers before them have achieved – they make typing interesting. Which is more of a backhanded compliment than it’s intended to be. Fincher has given us a film devoid of traditional action but still comes at you like a shot of adrenaline. It’s the sort affair that will undoubtedly inspire a generation of nascent net entrepreneurs in the same way that Star Trek motivated a previous generation to learn about science. The Social Network is a joy to behold – funny, sad, touching and exciting. It’s that rarest of creatures in present-day Hollywood: an interesting story well told. Brilliant direction, a whip smart script and collection of dazzling performances.
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