25 October 2010

Review: "The Social Network"

I had so many reservations about David Fincher's The Social Network that I had practically decided I was not going to see it. I think I was the only person who was not awed by the film's trailer. I feel like the relevance of Facebook is waning and I have long been considering deleting my account. I was wrong to judge The Social Network so prematurely. It is not a film about Facebook but about the men behind it and the reasons why it became so successful. The Social Network is a superbly crafted film with a terrific screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich) and incredible direction from David Fincher. The film's biggest asset, in my opinion, is the fantastic editing that skillfully weaves the complicated story together. Mark Zuckerberg does not always come across as the most likable person and Jesse Eisenberg does a remarkable job capturing this on film. I am most familiar with Eisenberg's role in The Squid and the Whale (2005) where he also plays an often unsympathetic character. While Eisenberg does a remarkable job in the film, it is Andrew Garfield's performance as Eduardo Saverin that gives the film its emotional depth. My only complaints about the film would be Justin Timberlake's unsuitability for such a dramatic film and the awkward use of one actor to play both Winklevoss twins. The Social Network is more about greed and pride than it is about Facebook. It presents a culturally relevant story about two groups of unsympathetic college kids that were able to change the landscape of social networking. The Social Network is a well-made and accessible film, anchored by two inspired performances and Aaron Sorkin's great script.

In 2003, after breaking up with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) creates a website that allows users to rate the attractiveness of female students at Harvard University. Zuckerberg is able to accomplish this in one night by hacking into residence databases and downloading pictures. With the help of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), Zuckerberg launches FaceMash. It caused quite a controversy at Harvard and Zuckerberg was placed on academic probation. His actions caught the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). They hire Zuckerberg as a programmer for their website, Harvard Connection. Although he does not tell Eduardo about his agreement with the Winklevoss twins, he does tell him about an idea for a different website, thefacebook. With a $1000 investment from Eduardo they are soon able to launch Facebook, an exclusive website for Harvard students. When Divya learns of Zuckerberg's involvement with Facebook he and Cameron are eager to sue him for intellectual property theft, but Tyler is against it. The Social Network deftly goes back and forth in time as we see the complications that lead to Eduardo's dismissal from Facebook, his lawsuit against Zuckerberg, the Winklevoss' lawsuit against Zuckerberg, and Sean Parker's (Timberlake) involvement with Facebook.

It is very hard to imagine that a film about Facebook could be so gripping. Mark Zuckerberg is hardly a sympathetic hero (or victim, depending on your viewpoint). Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra do not come across as victims either and personally I was not on their side. The Social Network is a dramatization and we must not take the events on screen as the absolute truth. The real success of this film is the work of David Fincher. Fincher has taken a film deeply entrenched in cultural relevance and created a captivating story about success and greed. It has been five years since I started using Facebook and the exclusivity that Mark Zuckerberg envisioned is all but forgotten. Every cellphone advertisement mentions Facebook. Every film trailed comes with the phrase "Like this on Facebook." One of my first thoughts after seeing the film was that I wanted to delete my account. The Social Network is a wonderfully crafted film with a talented director, screenwriter and cast, but I do not think it is as much a cultural milestone as some critics have suggested.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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