By at October 6, 2010 | 6:27 am | Print

4.5 / 5 stars

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network -- Movie PosterThe Social Network is not really about the creation of Facebook. It’s more about the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the brainchild of the zeitgeist site. In David Fincher’s skillfully plotted adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s treatment for “The Accidental Billionaires,” Zuckerberg is the enigmatic bullseye in a dartgame of teenage emotions and tons of cash. He exists in a complex gray area between driven genius and asocial asshole, as an unbreakable line of code in an airtight film. In Jesse Eisenberg’s able hands and darting eyes, Zuckerberg is as mysterious as any multi-layered fictional villain. Except Zuckerberg is not a villain. We don’t think.

His soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Erica believes differently, in the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) fine-pointed, teeth-gritting screenplay. It’s a searing conversation in which Sorkin and Fincher introduce our lead with remarkable efficiency, presenting a fast-talking, speed-thinking, know-it-all with zero grace and even fewer filters. After insulting Erica, the surprisingly intense Rooney Mara, about status and choice of schools (as a Boston University alum, I’m highly offended!), Zuck is dumped. Eisenberg reacts with sorrow, desperation and revenge, all wrapped up in sweatshirt geekiness. In just a few minutes, the performances and breathless direction tell us where young Zuckerberg is going. We just anxiously wait for the dominoes to be lined up, and for the first one to be tipped over.

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

And The Social Network does not disappoint, not for one minute of its two hours. It tells of two Internet juggernauts — Zuckerberg and his creation — from Facebook’s drunken, hateful embryonic stages in a Harvard University dorm room to the dual lawsuits filed years later. One suit is courtesy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), a clear-thinking pal who was there that first night, and would become Facebook’s early CFO; the other is from the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and and Josh Pence, with Hammer’s face and voice digitally added to Pence), well-heeled student-athletes who are clearly from the other side of the quad.

Money aside, Fincher and Sorkin give us no winners and losers in The Social Network, a refreshing change from dumb-it-down fare. No heroes, no anti-heroes, no clear delineation (with a potential exception or two) between good and bad. Just different motives, personalities, levels of influence. Guys are making decisions that would literally change global communication habits, yet may not be old enough to drink.

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social NetworkZuckerberg is quiet, scheming in ways he feels are miles ahead of regular human thinking. In the lawsuits — the first a financial dispute, the second for theft of intellectual property — he is defiant, questioning the black-and-white logic of practically every phrase. It’s inspired writing from Sorkin, who develops emotion and conflict far beyond the tommy-gun speed-reading dialogue that’s become his signature since The West Wing. And there’s a fine tension in Fincher’s pacing, overlapping lines mixed in with meaningful pauses. In the midst of answering a question, Zuckerberg calmly stares out the window and states “It’s raining,” and the rhythm of the scene is happily derailed. Some who’ve seen the movie refer to Zuckerberg’s possible ADD or Asperger’s. I disagree. There’s something far more complex there, and Eisenberg does a wonderful job teasing us with it.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social NetworkAs Saverin, Andrew Garfield (left, Never Let Me Go) sculpts a character with the greatest arc in the film, doing so in a competent, natural, no-frills way that impresses. Saverin is Zuckerberg’s more reasonable conscience, a guy who wouldn’t be wowed by Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the Napster co-founder who takes Zuckerberg and Facebook under his charming, pretentious wing. Timberlake plays Parker a smidge too Hollywood for the rest of this cast, but his magnetism is undeniable. Sorkin could easily paint Parker as a rich prick, but he gives Timberlake a moment to show some sincere energy and vision, and Timberlake has us believe Parker is genuinely, little-kid excited somewhere beneath the glitz.

The world has plenty of high-profile new-media lawsuits worth talking about. The difference with The Social Network is its contradiction. According to the film, Mark Zuckerberg worked feverishly to create the ideal social circle, but had practically none of his own. To his sad dismay, he was the anti-Winklevoss. With that, The Social Network is crafted as a tragedy, a clear reminder that money and friendship are different beasts, and often should not mix. Ultimately, Fincher and Sorkin tell us we all want to connect, to be embraced, online and otherwise. And in a final poetic scene, they convey it with very few words, through the eyes of a guy who may never be defined.

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  1. Brewster, 7 years ago Reply

    Great insight and review of The Social Network. I have not yet seen the film but have read both books. Really enjoyed your thoughts.

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