The Social Network

Director    David Fincher
Starring    Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones, Armie Hammer
Release    1 OCT (US) 15 OCT (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


16th October 2010

The Social Network is not a movie that sounds good on paper. The origin story of Facebook, the most ubiquitous website on the web? David Fincher ditching his serial killer chic to focus on an internet start-up? Starring Justin Timberlake? Dammit, where's the 'dislike' button on this thing...

Leave your pre-conceived notions behind: The Social Network is a marvel of storytelling; a perfect marriage of expert scripting, depth of character and human drama. It's a movie that succeeds in entertaining and enthralling, almost in spite of its subject matter - the fact that it's about Facebook at all is almost irrelevant.

The movie opens in 2003 with Harvard computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sharing a beer with his about to be ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) in a crowded student bar. A row erupts - peppered with Aaron Sorkin's trademark pointed barbs - and Zuckerberg is promptly un-friended. As Erica stands to leave, she hits him with the following sucker punch: "You're going to be successful and rich, but you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a tech geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that's not true. It'll be because you're an asshole."

It's a theme stuck to throughout the movie: Zuckerberg is a genius, yes, but his success in social networking is ironically tempered by his inability to connect to another human being. Burned and spurned, Zuck returns to his dorm room and, drunk and bilious, invents a prototype friend-finder website that in just seven short years, will be valued at 33 billion dollars. Not a bad night's work for an asshole.

[gallery]The Social Network is based on Ben Mezrich's tell-all account, The Accidental Billionaires - a source which is most likely largely fictional. It's clear where the filmmakers sympathy lies: the moral barometer swings firmly towards Zuckerberg's former best friend and wronged business partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). But though it may stretch credulity to the limit, the facts are unmistakable: Mark Zuckerberg - the world's youngest billionaire, the new Bill Gates, the guy with "I'm CEO, bitch" printed on his business cards - sure fucked over a lot of guys to get to the top.

At its core, The Social Network lays bare the power shift in recent years that's seen the nerds rising up out of their parents' basements to redefine modern business, much to the chagrin of the old guard. Truly, the geeks have inherited the Earth: talk about a status update. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in scenes between Mark and the identical Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer, an unexpected source of comic relief), who claim Zuckerberg ripped off their idea.

It's hilarious to see these two Olympic rowers - two strapping "gentlemen of Harvard" - given the runaround by a nerd in a hoodie and flip-flops. "The Winklevii aren't suing me for intellectual property theft," explains Zuckerberg. "They're suing me because the first time in their lives, things didn't go the way they were supposed to."

Mark Zuckerberg gets a rough deal, sure, but this is no witch hunt. If anyone is cast as a villain, it's Justin Timberlake's Silicon Valley sleaze, Sean Parker; creator of Napster and the motivation Zuckerberg needed to take Facebook to the next level. "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool?" enquires Parker over Appletinis in a trendy restaurant. "A billion dollars." While Saverin snorts his derision, Zuckerberg's eyes narrow; the infuriating thing, of course, being that Parker was right all along. Give credit where it's due: Timberlake is fantastic at playing a jerk and coaxes superb performances from both Eisenberg and Garfield as mentor and meddler respectively.

On the surface, The Social Network is not a movie that David Fincher needed to make; it's a story that has none of his usual macabre thrills and spills, no one is murdered or trapped in a small room or has an imaginary friend who beats them up. But think on it and you'll realise it's exactly what he needed: a human story with little in the way of frills and distractions - it's proof he can make any movie.

There are flourishes of genius here and there; the digital duplication of Hammer's performance is seamless; the tilt-shift boat race at Henley is masterful; and, more importantly, there are very few typing montages and/or shots of computer monitors projecting powerful beams of lights into people's faces like it's the bloody Matrix or something. The Social Network's greatest triumph is that it is never boring, despite its occasionally dreary subject matter, and that is entirely to David Fincher's credit. And hey, if you absolutely must tick 'dark' and 'brooding' on your checklist, Trent Reznor's score is sublime.

Forget Mafia Wars and Farmville and poking and privacy and walls and tagging and profile pictures. Forget Facebook completely. The Social Network is about the lure of power and the fallout it leaves behind; the betrayal that stems from success. Very few films have been made so far this millennium that have something important and relevant to say about the small new world we live in: The Social Network may not turn out to be the definitive movie made about the plugged-in generation, but it's a pretty good start.

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