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Friday, October 1, 2010

The Social Network Review


              We live in a country where nearly half of the population has a Facebook account, over 125million users in the United States alone.  Facebook is a large part of the way we interact in our increasingly digitally connected world.  Facebook pages by their very nature are not necessarily accurate representations of who we are, but rather venues to display whom we often wish we were.  Who could be so consumed by this idea of showing the world who he wanted to be, that he would not only create a website but a virtual empire where he can finally prove his worth? 
               Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland) plays Mark Zuckerberg as a man so consumed by his view of success that it becomes an abstraction.  He isn’t interested in the practical application of what most of us would consider the fruits of success. Money, friendship and ultimately happiness mean little if anything to him.  Everything is expendable on the altar of his obsession.  At first it seems counter-intuitive that a man who is obsessed with how others perceive him would so easily cast aside those that do appreciate him.  It is because he isn’t interested in friends; he wants followers.  Why settle for the hug for you can have applause?  As the old adage says “you have to love yourself before others can love you” in Zuckerberg’s case perhaps it should be, “you have to love yourself before you will allow anyone else to love you”.   
               The question has been raised as to whether this characterization is an accurate portrayal of the real Mark Zuckerberg.  Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant swift moving script was vetted within an inch of its life.  It was culled from numerous interviews and countless hours of court depositions.  Facebook and Zuckerberg had a copy of this script before a frame was shot and didn’t lift a finger or make a single suggestion to the inaccuracy of any of it. 
 None of that really matters to you or me as the viewer though.  We don’t go to the movies for facts; we go to the movies for emotional truth.  I don’t know if the opening of Saving Private Ryan had any relation to how it actually occurred, but it sure felt real.  A very obvious comparison can be drawn with Citizen Kane.  I have no idea how deep the similarities between Hearst and Kane go, but I know it is a great film.  Accurate or not, The Social Network is a great film too that deserves to be seen. 
               Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men) is the king of writing intelligent, funny dialogue.  Sorkin’s dialog not only serves as his primary form of exposition, but also deeply informs his characters.  Even as his conversations branch off into obscure statistics, cannibalistic chickens and karate kid references it is always grounded and relevant to what we need to learn about a character.  This is the best a Sorkin screenplay has ever been portrayed onscreen and a huge amount of that credit must obviously go to the young cast.
 Jesse Eisenberg plays a part that could easily have had the audience turn against him.  Instead his performance engages us to a level where we find ourselves rooting for this guy to finally get it right.  We spend the majority of the film just trying to figure Zuckerberg out.  Andrew Garfield (Lions for Lambs, Spiderman) is wonderful as Zuckerberg’s partner Eduardo who really does become the heart and conscience of the film.  Special mention needs to go to Armie Hammer (Reaper, Gossip Girl) for pulling off the illusion of playing two characters so well that people who had seen the film already were surprised to learn one man played both Winklevoss twins.  Even Justin Timberlake is perfectly cast as Napster creator Sean Parker.  What is remarkable about Timberlake is not the realization that he can act (which we already know from his past work Alpha Dog, Edison, Black Snake Moan etc.) but that the baggage he brings not only doesn’t hurt the film but enhances it.  Sean Parker is supposed to be a huge force of personality; Timberlake brings an air of authenticity to always being the coolest guy in the room.
               This is a film that on paper really doesn’t seem like it should have worked.  This is a movie written by the creator of The West Wing, starring an actor that some people still confuse with Michael Cera and the biggest pop star on earth, with music from Nine Inch Nails and directed by the man who brought you Fight Club.  It sounds like a terrible mish-mash, but it works like gang-busters.
David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac) has found a way to take all of these disparate elements and really made a polished and important film out of them.  Fincher has taken a screenplay of people in rooms talking to each other, and given it an energy and tension.  You will be on the edge of your seat watching this one like it’s a thriller.  There is a sequence early in the film where Zuckerburg is literally drinking beer and coding in his dorm room while others are off partying, and it is as exciting as any action scene you will see this year.
The Social Network isn’t just a great or important film; it is an incredibly entertaining one as well.  Some films seem to come along at the perfect time to help define a generation.  From Easy Rider to The Breakfast Club these were films that not only reflected but informed our perception of an entire generation.  The Social Network may very soon be remembered as one of those films.  The Social Network is the best film of the year.
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