Director: David Fincher Release date: 15th October (UK) // Out Now (US) Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Bryan Barter, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield. As an admirer of all things cinema, I always try to check out multiple reviews of a film before I head off to the theater. I do this for the same reason as I suspect most of you do: to get a better feel for what is going to be shown on the screen. Critics will never agree on everything, but out of all the reviews I read for The Social Network, there was one common statement that seemed to stick out: director David Fincher’s account of the inception of the popular Web site Facebook could be considered our generation’s version of Citizen Kane. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, don’t you think? After all, we are talking about a game-changer that is thought of by many as the greatest film of all time. Some may find the story interminable, and that’s all right, but you can’t deny the innovating filming techniques used by director Orson Welles still have a great influence in motion pictures today. So, 70 years down the road, are we going to look back at The Social Network and recognize it as the Holy Grail of the movie industry? I doubt it. But that doesn’t stop the fact that it is still exquisite moviemaking and easily one of the year’s best films. To be fair, though, I can completely understand why someone would compare The Social Network to Citizen Kane. Historical importance aside, the two films have a similar Rashomon-style story structure, they share comparable themes about power and greed and they profile incredibly intelligent but deeply flawed media moguls who obsessively want to have their cake and eat it too. And both individuals don’t care about what it takes to get to the top, even if it means stabbing the people they care about most right in the back. But whereas Welles’ timeless classic encompasses the entire life of Charles Foster Kane, The Social Network only focuses on the few years surrounding whiz-kid Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of the world-wide phenomenon Facebook and the lawsuits that soon follow. It would have been so easy to show Zuckerberg’s story from one point of view, but Fincher (Se7en and Fight Club) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men and TV’s The West Wing) aren’t interested in easy. They present The Social Network in a non-linear fashion with most of the information spilling out in deposition hearings where Zuckerberg, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland), is accused of shutting out the people who helped make Facebook what it is today. First there’s Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s former best friend and business partner who provided the initial financial backing for Facebook. Then there’s Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence, with some help from digital technology), who all claim he stole their idea of creating an on-campus social networking site.
Each character is given an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and here is the thing of beauty — all of their memories are conflicting, so it’s really up to the viewer to decide who they want to believe. The answer is not cut and dry. However, let me get this straight right now, The Social Network is not a documentary so don’t take everything you see and hear as absolute fact. Even Zuckerberg himself has dismissed the movie as fiction and Ben Mezrich, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, has acknowledged that he re-created some of the dialogue and events. Even so, The Social Network still makes for compelling drama. But really, it’s no wonder why Zuckerberg would try to distance himself so far from the movie, seeing as it largely portrays him as an arrogant and egotistical prodigy who can become excessively callous when pushed the wrong way. I guess it’s a testament to Eisenberg’s acting skills that he is able to make you sympathize with Zuckerberg’s situation and feel his pain. Actually, it’s Eisenberg’s performance that helps make Zuckerberg the most fascinating and complicated movie character since Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview. Zuckerberg often talks so fast that he makes John Moschitta Jr. of the old Micro Machines commercials seem like a slow speaker, but Eisenberg is so good at letting the words roll off his tongue that every line sounds like sweet music.
It also doesn’t hurt that The Social Network is comprised of some rather authentic and impressive performances, including Rooney Mara as one of Mark’s bitter ex-girlfriends and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Napster co-founder who helped cause the rift between Zuckerberg and Saverin. But even with its great performances, it’s difficult to imagine how The Social Network would have turned out had Sorkin not written the screenplay. The dialogue is what gives the film its bite, and Sorkin’s script is so sharp it could split a hair that was just plucked off someone’s head. And it’s remarkably clever and funny, too. (Do I see an Oscar win in Sorkin’s future? You betcha.) The film also works notably well on a visual level thanks to Fincher, who just might be the most underappreciated director working today. His films are always a sight to behold and The Social Network is no different. Fincher infuses the movie with his usual caliginous and earthy tones, which further displays the overall darkness of the narrative. And all of his scenes look perfectly constructed too, especially the one where he cross-cuts between Zuckerberg first showing his computer prowess and an exclusive party being hosted by a prestigious Harvard final club. (That sequence, like many others, are further elevated by Trent Reznor’s haunting and synthesizer-filled score.) But the most important aspect of The Social Network is the way it examines how Facebook and other communication tools like e-mail and texting have changed the way the world communicates. (They don’t have roads in Bosnia but they have Facebook, one character says.) It really defines who we have become as a culture. Hmmm ... maybe The Social Network will have more significance than I originally thought.