Who knew the story of Facebook was so interesting? Apparently, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher did. The Social Network is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year, a classic tale of greed and obsession made more engrossing by two of Hollywood's most cutting edge talents.
It all started back in 2003 at Harvard University, with the young, ambitious and clearly egotistical genius Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). This is, in fact, the catalyst for the entire saga of Facebook. From there, Zuckerberg goes home to his dorm, gets drunk, writes nasty things about Erica on his blog and proceeds to create Facemash.com, a Hot-or-Not type site where Harvard students are tasked to rate the pictures of all the girls on campus. This is where the concept of a "facebook" originated- with every house at Harvard presenting its members like a yearbook.Facemash is an overnight success, generating so much traffic (the movie claims 22,000 hits in one night) that it crashes the Harvard network. Before we know it, Zuckerberg is being brought up to the school's disciplinary committee for misappropriating digital information, a charge he skillfully sidesteps with crude wit and intelligence, receiving only academic probation. It's not long before Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Both played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) are approaching him to work on a Harvard-exclusive dating site. Thus the seed is planted and the stage is set for Zuckerberg's transformation from geeky, self-centered, oblivious nerd to the purported backstabbing social media mogul we know today.
Throughout the film we're volleyed between the "past" (starting in 2003) and the "present", where Zuckerberg is involved in not one, but two major lawsuits involving the dubious creation of Facebook and the three parties fighting for control over it. I have to say, in the hands of a lesser director and writer, the way the story is laid out could have been a total mess. But Fincher and Sorkin pull it off expertly, cutting back and forth in time to show us a linear progression of events in both timelines, guided by the courtroom testimony on which the film is based.
Jesse Eisenberg gives a very textured performance as the Facebook CEO, portraying the character's insatiable drive and conviction without making him completely wretched and irredeemable. There are undercurrents of innocence, cluing us into the fact that deep down inside, Zuckerberg isn't a power-hungry monster, but more like a child who doesn't really think about how the things he wants and how he chooses to go about attaining them might affect the lives of others, especially the people closest to him. Psychologically, there's an interesting character study at work here, a victim of his own intelligence and desire to be liked and respected. I assume multiple viewings will unearth more subtleties and make it all the more fascinating. Remember, Facebook was basically started because of a girl.
Andrew Garfield brings a welcome balance to the mix, playing Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's former best friend and business partner, who was instrumental in the creation of the site. Garfield plays the straight man to Eisenberg's eccentric, embodying in Saverin everything that Zuckerberg seems to not be: compassionate, considerate and nice... too nice, which makes it extra gut wrenching when he's taken advantage of.
Justin Timberlake continues to impress, bringing a hollow rock star vibe to Sean Parker, creator of Napster and central figure in taking Facebook out of the dorm and into the Fortune 500 arena. Parker is pretty much pure sleaze here, with a penchant for drugs and underage girls, playing the devil on Zuckerberg's shoulder, pushing him to nudge Saverin out of the game.
Special mention must go to Armie Hammer, who plays not one, but both Winklevoss twins. Not only do Hammer's performances differ in such subtle ways as to convey the idea that these characters are literally two identical people split from the same egg, similar in all but the most minute physical and mental ways, but seeing them composited together on screen interacting with each other doesn't even leave a trace of doubt that what you're seeing is real. Before seeing the movie, I was very curious to know who played the twins, and I was blown away to find that Fincher pulled an Eddie Murphy on me. Fincher's technical prowess knows no limits, and the effect here is astoundingly seamless.
Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography is just as polished and perfect as the CGI employed in the film, capturing the campus of Harvard with a wonderful low-light look and playing a balancing act with the present day court cases, color coding scenes so you're never lost. It also represents the official maturity of the Red One camera from digital wannabe to serious film replacement. Fincher and Cronenweth shot the film on two of the first upgraded Red cameras with a new sensor capable of dynamic range that rivals most of today's film stocks, and allowing the director to do many more takes to ensure the best performances without going horrendously over budget. You could tell that projects shot with earlier incarnations of the camera were not film, but here, the results are nearly indistinguishable, a major victory for digital cinema.
The editing is top notch, getting out of the way to tell the story, not letting itself become too overbearing so as to distract. And Trent Reznor's score ties it all together with a cool 8-bit warmth that manages to underscore the emotions when needed and kick into higher gear when it needs to be more flamboyant. It's all very calculated and effective, the kind of precise filmmaking David Fincher has become known for.
The film is not without its flaws, and the third act seems a little light on climactic energy, but it all comes full circle in an interesting way, which leaves you both furious with the main character, and yet strangely sympathetic towards him. All in all, it's a minor bump in an otherwise pitch-perfect execution of an idea that many balked at upon first mention of it.
It turns out that the creation of Facebook is not all that unlike many of our classic stories about rising to power and losing friendship. Once you get past the oddity of it depicting such a recent events involving one of the most common social networking sites, you'll realize that it's somewhat of an important film. It may not be viewed as such immediately, but in a few years, people will look back on The Social Network and recognize the operatic nature of the story being told, as well as the cultural relevance of a film about the founding of Facebook, if that's not already apparent. There's a reason why there's no big-budget MySpace movie... and a reason why nobody really uses MySpace anymore.