Back in the middle of 2009 the idea for a Facebook movie emerged and everybody was very sceptical about the idea. Questions were asked as to who would pay to see a movie about a website that is dedicated to sharing information amongst friends. It seemed nonsensical. Then Aaron Sorkin adapted a best-selling book by Ben Mezerich, David Fincher attached himself as director, and the whole venture suddenly had credibility. It still seemed like a bad idea but an intriguing bad idea nonetheless. Little over a year later and The Social Network lands on the silver-screen, so was it a bad idea?
Yes it’s a movie about Facebook, but it is more accurately a movie about the founding of Facebook and the two legal battles that resulted over the ownership of the social networking giant. Harvard, 2003 and college student Mark Zuckerberg has just had a rather uncomfortable break-up with his girlfriend. In a fit of drunken rage he decides to take revenge on all women and uses his considerable computer skills to create FaceMash, a site whose sole purpose is to compare all the girls on campus to each other. This gains him notoriety, an official college warning and an introduction to three of Harvard’s elite students, who hire him to create a social networking site for the college. These events prompt him to start TheFacebook.com, an independent college only social network, funded by best friend Eduardo Saverin. Interest in the site explodes and soon attracts the attention of another e-business innovator Sean Parker, who shows Zuckerberg the high-life success can bring. As Parker eclipses Saverin and the jilted Harvard elite bay for blood Zuckerberg soon finds himself facing legal action and all out of friends.
Whether or not Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is accurate there’s no doubting that he owns this performance. The scatter-shot dialogue emanates from him with ease, so much so that you forget that this is an actor portraying a real-life person in a fictional tale. His Zuckerberg is a deeply unlikable person but you can’t help give a grudging acknowledgement to what he accomplished and wish for him to emerge from the law-suits without too much harm. Making an anti-hero of an asshole takes some doing. Andrew Garfield too is on top of his game with the far more relatable Eduardo Saverin. He displays a wonderful naivety with strong moral outrage and gives a great comic performance in one scene with his at-time girlfriend. Justin Timberlake is inspired casting. As one of the founders of Napster, Sean Parker, we have a multi-million dollar music artist portraying a man who nearly destroyed the industry. That inherent irony alone would be enough to warrant his inclusion, but Timberlake imbues Parker with a fragility that’s masked by the whirlwind of bravado and bluster, and plays both character traits quite well. The women in the story fare less well with Rooney Mara and Brenda Song getting a raw deal. Song to her credit plays pyscho-girlfriend well, but this is a boys story.
Director David Fincher, who has proven himself an accomplished visual artist tones it back here to allow the dialogue and characters centre the movie. This gives room for an appreciation of Aaron Sorkin’s script, and it’s well deserved. The man that created the West Wing has crafted perhaps his finest script here, with razor-sharp dialogue and a natural steady beat despite the flashes between past and present. In fact the non-linear approach is what makes this movie. There have been comparisons to a modern-day Citizen Kane, but it’s something different than that. It’s a very modern tale with a classic cinematic style. On the aural front The Social Network is exquisite. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is a sumptuous delight, counterpointing the frantic dialogue with a calm softness that enhances the emotions on display. From a technical standpoint this movie is a triumph.
The fabulous acting, coupled with an extraordinary script and the steady hands of a master craftsman make The Social Network one of the finest movies of this new decade. Whether you know anything about the subject matter or not, there’s little reason not to like this.