Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Release Review: The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

The first decade of the 21st Century saw the world of cyberspace develop to levels almost beyond belief, allowing regular people the opportunity to invade the privacy of others to often dangerous extremes. One major avenue of this encroachment was Facebook, which has becomes the most popular and certainly the most commercially successful of the social networking creations. David Fincher's film, The Social Network, is a drama about Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, the founders of Facebook. Adapting his incredible screenplay from Ben Mezrick's 2009 non-fiction novel, The Accidental Billionaires, Aaron Sorkin has created a masterful canvas for director David Fincher to work with. With a superb ensemble cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Rooney Mara, who all deliver great performances, The Social Network is a hip, sexy, hilarious, exciting, thrilling and ultimately tragic tale of one young man's creation that forever changed the face of world social interaction, but ultimately consumed his life and destroyed those of his betrayed and bitter colleagues.

The opening sequence is an instant classic. It's 2003 and the story situates us in The Thirsty Scholar, a campus bar at Harvard. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is having a drink with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). She proceeds to break up with him after he insults her intelligence and seems completely self-involved and ignorant to anything she has to say. On exit she proclaims "he would always tell himself that girls didn't like him because he was a nerd. But girls will never like you because you are an asshole." For most of the entirety of the film, we struggle to find reasons to not call Zuckerberg an 'asshole'. The opening credits appear over a number of shots of Zuckerberg walking angrily back to his dorm at Kirkland House following his dumping. What seems to be a pretty standard montage was initially planned to be one long take utilizing multiple cameras that would later be stitched together. But it stands as it is, and it is one of the least imaginative sequences in the film. Back in his dorm, while intoxicated and at the same time blogging his emotions in an open forum, Zuckerberg hacks into the Harvard database and accesses the various resident archives and downloads pictures and names. He creates a website he calls FaceMash utilizing an algorithm supplied by his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), that asks students to rate the attractiveness of a pair of female Harvard undergraduates. His distasteful creation, which received a high abundance of traffic for a single night, results in his punishment of six months academic probation after the immense traffic causes parts of the Harvard network to crash. He is vilified by most of Harvard's female community but draws attention from the identical Winklevoss brothers, who approach him to work as a programmer for their idea of a website called Harvard Connection. Spawning from this, Zuckerberg approaches Saverin and proposes they become partners in the creation of a website exclusive to Harvard students, where they can upload photos and display personal information without the threat of privacy invasion, known as 'Thefacebook'.

Saverin funds the project with an initial thousand-dollar transfer. Once it is released, Thefacebook becomes immediately popular amongst the student body, prompting the Winklevoss brothers and their business associate, Divya Narendra, to discuss suing Zuckerberg for intellectual property theft. Later, as the website begins to expand into other states and then worldwide, Zuckerberg arranges a meeting with Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake), the founder of Napster. When Saverin is skeptical of working with Parker, noting his troubling personal and professional history, and remains in New York when Zuckerberg and his team move to Los Angeles, he winds up completely pushed out of the operations. Zuckerberg takes on Parker's advice, drops the title of the site to simply 'Facebook', drives the company into Billionaire waters and awaits the celebration of 1 Million site members. Both Saverin, who is reduced to less than one-tenth percent share of the company, and the Winklevoss brothers file lawsuits against Zuckerberg and Facebook, and the film crosscuts these testimonies with the 2003-04 conception of the website, often starting some of the dialogue as spoken by Zuckerberg himself, and concluding it as part of a orated account by the prosecuting or defending legal representatives in the deposition. Fincher's film is effortlessly engaging and the dual time-lines are seamlessly combined, and after the initial confusion of differentiating the different periods, it is remarkably easy to follow.

At exactly 120 minutes, the films' ability to entertain never wavers. Brilliantly capturing the rebellious fun of college life, and the growth of multimedia obsession in the middle of the decade, it is all timed to perfection and tautly constructed. With never a dull moment, every minute is completely absorbing, and never fails to leave you in either guilty hysterics or shaking your head in distaste at Zuckerberg's antics. While Zuckerberg seems to be the most conniving, self-indulged person you never hope to cross paths with in your life, you still can't help but feel a bit sorry for him. It really seems like he is incapable of controlling his maniacal personality, but he is driven by his intellectual superiority, and seems to be borderline autistic. But ultimately we start to side with Saverin in the deciding legal battles, as he seems to be the only one that possesses any real humanity. We realize that while he worked hard trying to find advertisers to monetize the site, Zuckerberg was wasting away Saverin's donated money in Los Angels funding parties with Shaun Parker, who was riding the success of Facebook after his prized music-download site Napster was shut down. Much like Zuckerberg was, we are also seduced by the business flair and likable aura of Shaun Parker, but his out-of-control rambunctiousness finally makes him aware that he could once again lose everything. Opposing this, we never really see a change in Zuckerberg, whose glares of loathing at his former friends and colleagues sitting opposite him at the inquest, and obvious lack of enthusiasm, is only broken when he hungrily types away at his laptop, rendering his creation. For a man who should be filled with self-loathing, Zuckerberg either chooses to remain ignorant of the accusations against him or sarcastically and often heatedly reacts with near-malicious condescension. His obsessions are reiterated at the conclusion as he sullenly agrees to settle all of his lawsuits, before deciding to add his ex-girlfriend to his personal page before the camera lingers on him repeatedly refreshing to see if she accepts his request. He no doubt has millions of 'friends' linked to his page, but sadly no real friends left in the world. We watch, totally absorbed in the proceedings, as the most influential and definitive vehicle of multimedia social interaction comes to fruition. Facebook has brought people from across the globe together, reweaving the fabric of society, but completely unraveled the friendship of its creators.

I have always been a David Fincher fan and I have always credited Se7en (1995) as his greatest masterpiece, despite the greater cult success of Fight Club (1999) and the more recognized acclaim for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). With The Social Network, his eighth feature, he confirms his status as one of Hollywood's most accomplished directors. Fincher's recognized dark and brooding mise-en-scene and stylish camera techniques are obvious here, and it all works brilliantly. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is also incredible, with a most interesting use of 'In the Hall of the Mountain King.' But it is Aaron Sorkin's wordy screenplay, however, that is the most impressive. The dialogue is deliciously culture rich and witty. He effortlessly explains so much about Zuckerberg's demented demeanour via these dialogue-heavy sequences. As Mark Zuckerberg, Jessie Eisenberg (star of Adventureland and Zombieland) is outstanding, and he receives great support from the always brilliant Andrew Garfield (BAFTA winner for his breakout performance in Boy A), pop favorite Justin Timberlake and the lovely Rooney Mara (who's involvement in just two sequences were both memorable). Garfield is truly exceptional as Saverin; you really feel that he is pained to have to turn on his former best friend. He genuinely liked Mark, which was more than anyone else was willing to admit. At the very least I expect The Social Network to create a lot of buzz come Oscar season. Along with a Best Picture nomination, Fincher's direction should also be recognized, and Sorkin can already call the Adapted Screenplay Oscar his own. As for the performances, Eisenberg should get a nod for lead, and I'd also nominate Garfield for his support. Facebook has defined the last decade of online networking, proving to be one of the most addictive yet antisocial inventions of the 21st Century. Sorkin's screenplay, based loosely on Mezrich's account of these events, explores the origins of this invention and examines the narcissistic sociopath that drove it into the cyber world. The Social Network is without doubt one of the year's best films and a definitive encapsulation of the 21st Century to date. It's a new landmark in American cinema. Remaining as strikingly intelligent as it's central protagonist, it is just as rewarding upon repeat viewings, as we become even more acute to it's wealth of subtleties. There really is something for everyone here. It's brilliant!

My Rating: 5 Stars

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