Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

If you had to determine the greatest agent of social change of the last decade, it would have to be Facebook. It came from humble, Harvard beginnings, but has since evolved into a way of communication: now you can chat with your friends around the world. You can update your profile to give away whatever information you want about yourself. You can present your entire life for everyone to see. It connects people. And its ubiquitous: there are more Facebook users in the world than there are people in the United States. Your Facebook, to an extent, is you, and you are it.
Its no surprise, then, that a movie about Facebook would eventually arrive. The Social Network is all about those humble beginnings: in 2003, Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who come up with an idea for expanding the college experience to the Internet. However, Zuckerberg was asked to help fellow students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and body-double Josh Pence) create a similar website before. As Facebook evolves into its present form, the Winklevoss's pursue action against them, as does Saverin, who was essentially bought out of the company.
Garfield and Eisenberg
From the very beginning, three things are made very clear. The first is that there is no doubt this is a David Fincher film. The opening scenes bear his familiar blue-and-green color palette, and the obsession and dark nature of the story lend well to his tendencies. The second is that there is no doubt this is an Aaron Sorkin film. He takes on the politics of Facebook, and the various deals and deeds that lead to its current form. And Sorkin's trademark dialogue sparkles, as all of the actors prove surprisingly adept at handling his fast-paced, witty words. The third is that there is no doubt the story has been sexed-up and dramatized to make it more interesting. So if you're looking for truth here, you should probably look elsewhere.
However, that also works in the films favor. Set around the deposition hearing years later for the settlements Zuckerberg may have to make, the film operates as a sort of digital-age Rashomon, in that we get to see Zuckerberg's, Saverin's, and the Winklevoss' sides of the story. The film wisely avoids drawing any conclusions, letting the viewer decide what the truth is, if there is any at all.
Timberlake and Eisenberg
The cast is aces, as well. Eisenberg turns Zuckerberg into a stone wall of douchbaggery, never letting you see what's going on in his brilliant mind. He's a gung-ho hero, smart enough to accomplish whatever he wants, including manipulating everyone around him for his personal benefit (or at least, so it seems). Garfield gives a phenomenal performance as Saverin, who tries desperately to make a human connection with Zuckerberg, only to (literally) be left out in the cold by him. Its the kind of performance that could (and should) earn the on-the-rise Garfield an Oscar nomination. And, in a surprising turn, Justin Timberlake shines as Sean Parker, the reckless creator of Napster who helps Zuckerberg turn Facebook into a corporation. He almost effortlessly disappears into the role, and brings an irresistible charisma to the screen. But the true breakout here is Hammer: he plays both roles incredibly well, giving each twin a very distinct personality and appearance, and delivering the film's best lines. He's so good here, in fact, that I didn't even realize the twins were the same actor until the Q&A with him, Eisenberg, and Sorkin afterwards (such a great experience. And it was my first advanced screening!). Hopefully, we'll be seeing more stellar work from Hammer in the future.
The problem with the film is, despite an excellent director, terrific script, and stellar cast, the film lacks a sense of urgency. Its almost as if, through it all, nobody really knew what to make of Facebook, or its importance. Its only in the deposition room that we really see that urgency, as everyone, especially Zuckerberg, begins to break down under the pressure of truth. The film drags at times, going through the political thriller motions without much heart. For a film about the beginnings and troubles of Facebook, it doesn't have a lot to say about it.
All of this is not to say its a bad film. Its a great film, and I recommend it to anyone who finds the subject matter interesting. But is it the Oscar front-runner, "greatest film of the year" (according to Peter Travers at Rolling Stone)? No, but its certainly one of the better ones.
The Social Network hits theaters October 1.

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