DVD Review: Well crafted and full of sexy energy, insights, and top-notch acting, The Social Network is self-assured and engrossing–an exhilarating display of writing, acting and filmmaking.
Whipped up by writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 (kindasorta) nonfiction The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network is a razor-sharp dissection of the ‘00s Zeitgeist from several directions.
Yes, it’s sometimes about computer nerds doing coding (but excitingly so). Yes, it’s about how online social networking has quickly changed how many of us “interact” or “socialize” with one another. It’s also about the hallowed halls of Harvard, where tomorrow’s movers and shakers ruthlessly chase their entrepreneurial dreams. And what inevitably happens on the Wild-West dot.com landscape when friendship smacks head-on into business interests.
But most of all The Social Network wants to be a Silicon-Valley Citizen Kane about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder (co-founder?) and creator (co-creator?) of Facebook. Played to impenetrable perfection by Jesse Eisenberg, Zuckerberg creates Facebook at Harvard in 2003 (almost on an embittered whim) and then watches it grow… and grow… and grow.
Structured in flashbacks/forwards from a series of legal hearings, we quickly learn that along the way, Zuckerberg made enemies. First up are the Old Money Winklevoss Twins Cameron and Tyler, aristocratic twin towers of jut-jawed American nobility (both portrayed by the ridiculously movie-star-looking Armie Hammer) who insist Mark stole their social-networking idea.
Eventually Justin Timberlake swagger-struts onto the scene as Napster co-founder Sean Parker, the silver-tongued dot.com Devil whose world of clubs, girls, and venture capitalism is irresistible to the aggro-nerdy Mark. If his portrayal of Parker seems like he’s just taking the irrepressible JT charm and using it for eeeevil (or at least irresponsibility), so be it—it’s still a relentlessly seductive performance by Timberlake.
Andrew Garfield is Mark’s Harvard partner Eduardo Saverin, who foolishly believes friendship means something in business. The British Garfield (Red Riding: 1974, Never Let Me Go, and your new Spider-Man) declares his arrival on the Hollywood scene as one of those rare and welcome actors who combine dashing looks with strong acting chops.
Baby You’re a Rich Man, Too
But it’s Eisenberg as Mark holds the center of The Social Network with hooded-eyed wariness and cold disdain. If you only know Eisenberg as the “other Michael Cera” in films like Zombieland and Adventureland, you’re in for a treat as he reminds us what an intense, deep-thinking and tremendous actor he is.
The joke is that as presented by Eisenberg, the enigmatic creator of the world’s biggest social network is himself socially stunted. The film’s Mark (not be be confused with the real Mark Zuckerberg) hums with a laser-focused, passive-aggressive arrogance–his interaction with other humans usually involves a cold, blank stare that oozes “are you stupid?” sarcasm.
Soaked in Sorkin’s giddy-up, whip-crack dialog and haughty judgmentalism, The Social Network dances so fast and so confidently on so many levels that just keeping up with all the ideas and themes—not to mention the talented cast—is exhausting but thrilling.
Fincher’s auteurism gets a workout as well—all those burnished glass and wood surfaces the director loves, plus the visually energetic detachment and formalism he shares with Inception‘s Christopher Nolan.
As brilliant as The Social Network is to watch, it does leave you yearning for something more amid all the fine moments. But in the end, watching Mark, Eduardo, and Sean play out their bitter triangle is so much fun you hardly notice the characters never connect with us or each other on any genuine emotional level.
Between Mezrich’s one-sided and very “speculative” book, Sorkin’s tragic-ironic dramatization and Fincher’s slick eye, we’re several layers away from reality or the “true story.” We observe Zuckerberg like a specimen in the zoo, and eventually realize The Social Network will never let us past the bars.
The Social Network is a an exhilarating, impressive film—maybe it will be the defining movie of our online era. Still, it’s odd to think our Charles Foster Kane is not stomping through newsrooms and campaign stops with a grandiose lust for life, but instead sits there in a hoodie, staring intently at a glowing computer screen.