The Social Network

The Social Network

****1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Many were puzzled by David Fincher's decision to make a film chronicling the creation of that unholy titan of modern communication, Facebook. Look a little closer at the details, however, and the story behind the world's biggest social network carries parallels to many of his previous films: the secretive 'cool' factor of the underground society in Fight Club; the deception and paranoia of The Game; the sprawling narratives of Zodiac and Benjamin Button. Impressively, Fincher manages to forego his usual stylistic flourishes in favour of an emphasis on razor-sharp performances, fleet-footed editing and a surprisingly traditional courtroom drama narrative, powered by lengthy flashbacks.

The film opens with an intense date-as-interrogation scene, where we find Mark Zuckerberg dissecting his girlfriend and finding fault with her disinterest in hyperanalytical thought. As he digs himself deeper and deeper into condescension, she turns the tables on his unconscious criticisms, leaving him to concoct a drink-fuelled retaliation-by-blog which spirals into the sort of cyber-bullying that lands him in deep trouble with the university - and instant notoriety among his peers. This new-found fame brings him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins, whose elitist idea for a Harvard social network site gives him the inspiration to go further than their narrow vision could ever allow.

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As Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg absolutely tears through his dialogue, brilliantly channelling the sort of tunnel-visioned, ADD-afflicted neuroses that keep such cyber-geniuses so woefully socially inept. He overcomes the script's early reliance on techno-babble and Harvard jargon, keeping our attention focused on his character's machinations, and despite his unexpressive face, he effectively conveys the inner hurt and self-awareness that is essential to making us sympathise with his character. The slightest tremble of a lip or welling up of the eyes speaks volumes about the internal turmoil Zuckerberg experiences as his house of cards comes crashing down on him.

Andrew Garfield provides excellent support as Zuckerberg's best friend and right-hand man, Eduardo Saverin. He's the voice of reason and most human of the characters, both sceptical about and concerned by Facebook's growth and effect on its creator. As both the Winklevoss twins, Armie Hammer comes across like a more chiselled James Spader, and helps lift the characters beyond mere Harvard aristocracy stereotypes, displaying both brattish bravado and righteous indignation. It is intimated that their contrasting stature to Zuckerberg played a part in his conscious intellectual theft; similarly, Eduardo's easy charm and societal success leads Zuckerberg to betray this one and only real friend. Justin Timberlake also impresses as Sean Parker, the fallen Napster magnate whose rock-star lifestyle and manipulative tendencies lead Facebook to unimagined success and its creators to money-dispute meltdown. The quality of the performances really bring depth and pathos to these relationships, and the script by Aaron 'The West Wing' Sorkin brings humour and vigour to what could have been a tedious history lesson.

One thing that's particularly intriguing is how this feels uncannily like a period piece. Fincher's fine eye for detail allows the fledgling site and people's enthralled reaction to it to place the story in a very specific, albeit recent, point in the past. This forces us to consider Facebook's current ubiquity in a critical fashion; if this is what it's done to its creators, what might it be doing to its users? There's a real Frankenstein's monster element to this story that by now extends to us, in our exponential reliance on the networking site. The film's references to Myspace and Napster make those once-hip web-sensations seem both quaint and tragically ahead of their time. The plot zips along at a thrilling pace, lending it an uncomfortable sense of inevitability, aided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's pulsing, electro-tinged score.

Fincher's cautionary fable is way more riveting than anyone could reasonably have expected. It is his most 'straight' film to date, and shows he can really layer characters with subtle nuance. He effectively establishes the ironic contrast between unbridled success in bringing people together and the personal fallout and crushing corruption that came with it. The financial aspect of the story is wisely downplayed; rock'n'roll excess is kept to a minimum. The film's greatest achievement is surely that it is so entertaining, generating excitement, emotion and humour from something as ethereal as website creation and legal disputes. It is a universal story that deserves to be seen and enjoyed by everyone.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2010
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The Social Network packshot
The story behind the founding of Facebook.
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Read more The Social Network reviews:

Andrew Grant ***1/2

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Andrew Garfield

Year: 2010

Runtime: 150 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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