Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Social Network

Just caught this film on DVD, having missed it while it was in theatres.


Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Josh Pence
Directed by: David Fincher
Relativity Media/Trigger Street Productions, Dist. Columbia Pictures

When news that this film would be made was first released, the internet was aflutter - but mainly with skepticism. The names seemed solid enough - David Fincher as director, Aaron Sorkin as the scribe, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scoring - but, understandably, everyone asked "how would one make a movie about Facebook? Who's going to watch that?"

The thing is, The Social Network is not about Facebook. It's perhaps like saying Raiders of the Lost Ark was about the Ark of the Convenant. We all know "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was about Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood, Belloq, Thot...but lest I digress, the genesis the success of this movie is in deciding the route to take.

The film is based upon the book "The Accidental Billionaires", by Ben Mezrich. Mezrich has had another of his books turned into a film before, and that film was the awful 21. That's the thing - when I heard of 21, I desperately wanted it to be something like The Social Network turned out to be.

Spurned by his ex-girlfriend (Rooney Mara), gifted but very unlikable Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) spitefully creates “facemash”, a website to rate the appearance of the campus femmes. And so begins his rollercoaster journey to becoming Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year and the second-youngest billionaire alive (Dustin Mokowitz, the first programmer and coder for Facebook, is eight days older than Zuckerberg) His best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), the affluent and influential twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, Josh Pence as stand-in) and freewheeling and charismatic Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) all become chess pieces in the grandmaster's game – and pieces will fall off the board.

David Fincher is known for being able to spin engaging yarns that affect on a psychological level, and pull audiences along for the ride. The Social Network is no different. From the get-go, it's a kinetic, mile-a-minute experience, akin to watching a high-quality action film - only that there's not one explosion in The Social Network. With a screenplay like Aaron Sorkin's, it doesn't need any at all.

"The Social Network" is slick and a complete filmgoing experience - it feels like a great amount of effort was put into every aspect of production. Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield carry the film ably, natch, and have immediately become hot commodities in Hollywood - the former nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (up against the likes of Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges), the latter the new Spider-Man. Indeed, Garfield gave off a strong Peter Parker-type vibe, changing my early opinions about The Amazing Spider-Man (after seeing that horrid costume).

Stylistically and aesthetically, the film is pretty much perfect, glamourous and sexy – Director of Photography and Fincher alum (from Fight Club) Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is smooth and cool, the film fashioning itself as an exclusive inside look behind the scenes, giving us hoi polloi a peek at the world of sex, drugs and money surrounding Facebook’s genesis. However, that’s the thing – it looks too pretty to feel like it’s based on a true story. Indeed, most of the film does feel like conjecture, but it doesn’t matter because it tells a good story. The Social Network probably didn’t set out to be a documentary anyway.

I feel that Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg turns out to be one of the greatest screen villains of all time, in the company of the likes of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, Heath Ledger’s Joker, and Malcolm McDowell’s Alex. I'm in no position to say if the real-life Zuckerberg is indeed anything like this portrayal, but either way Eisenberg did an astounding job. When characters who display traits of Asperger’s Syndrome feature in movies, they’re usually very nice deep down, or quirky and odd but likable. Zuckerberg as portrayed here is anything but – ruthless, cold, incredibly intelligent and with barely a shred of sympathetic quality until the very end of the film and Eisenberg nails all these qualities in this intense and absorbing turn.

The way the film presents it, the only true “good guy” swimming in the sea of sharks is Eduardo Saverin, as played by Garfield – probably because the real-life Saverin was the only member of the Facebook team who served as consultant to author Ben Mezrich. Still, Garfield is charming, real and puts his game face on to tackle the screenplay, and wins.

The supporting cast is strong, including Justin Timberlake’s suave, self-assured turn as Napster founder Sean Parker. Timberlake is a better actor than given credit for, but he can only play one type of role well. Good thing then that Sean Parker is exactly that kind of role.

However, I do question the decision to have Armie Hammer portray both Winklevoss twins, his visage digitally pasted onto body double Josh Pence to achieve the effect. Sure the CGI looks almost flawless, but it does sometimes (blasphemous as it sounds) remind one of any of the awful Eddie Murphy comedies where he insists on playing both characters. Hammer is a decent actor, but try as he might he was unable to sell the idea of two separate characters who look and sound alike but are otherwise individuals.

Aaron Sorkin, master of the “walk-and-talk” genre as displayed in The West Wing, gives us a “run-and-talk” instead, his screenplay demonstrating incredibly brisk and astute pacing, throwing in the right amount of technobabble so we can tenuously believe the computer know-how that went into creating the website, and also developing compelling, complex characters that you just can’t look away from.

Ultimately, the film is much like a modern-day retelling of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” – of how a brilliant, misunderstood and possibly evil genius created a monster, a monster that escaped his control, granting him fame and fortune by way of invading the lives of 600 million people around the world – and for so effectively getting such a frightening reality to take strong roots in the minds of such a mass audience, The Social Network is exceedingly praiseworthy.


Jedd Jong

1 comment:

  1. @softwaresolt

    Thanks for your comment, and I absolutely agree - it works on so many levels; it's practically an airtight movie.


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