Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard student who sets up a website to rate the attractiveness of female Harvard undergrads after being dumped. FaceMash, the resultant website, soon gets him in trouble but also stirs up an idea - a social network for all Harvard students where people can choose who to be friends with, add photos and have the college experience entirely online. After weeks of writing code, and with financial assistance from his best friend Eduardo Saverin, The Facebook goes live and is a huge immediate hit. But, did he steal the idea from a pair of twin rowers? Can Zuckerberg handle the potential and growth of his creation?

Let's not beat around the bush here. This is the Facebook film. The story of the creation of Facebook and of the people involved (or not) with its creation and initial success. Of course, we are all aware of how successful Facebook became. But the main question about this film has obviously been this: Why on earth has the story of the creation of Facebook been turned into a 2 hour film directed by David Fincher? I myself asked what on earth Fincher saw in such a story. I'm a big fan of Fincher, his previous films such as Fight Club and Seven are amongst my favourites, so why has he made his next project the story of the youngest billionaire on Earth? Two things emerged: It's a fascinating and compelling story, and it's extremely well written. EXTREMELY well written.

This is, of course, due to the fact that this film was based on a book (The Accidental Billionaires) which was adapted by West Wing and Studio 60 supremo Aaron Sorkin. I wouldn't be any kind of film critic if I didn't mention Sorkin's trademark rat-a-tat dialogue which is ever present throughout his work, including this, and it fits well. What gets forgotten is Sorkin's ability to create drama and tension. He's done that here, creating a fantastic story from something which had the potential to be very long, slow and painful. He picks up on the drama and, although it may be exaggerated, it makes for a great 2 hour film.

Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Zuckerberg, playing him perfectly. Funnily enough, it's almost the same character he played in Zombieland; a guy who is uncomfortable with real social interaction and is more at home in front of a computer screen. What Eisenberg, and the script, plays on most is the irony that Zuckerberg creates a website which is designed to bring people together and yet it actually ends up alienating him from his one and only real friend. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an awkward, angry geek who doesn't want to be told what to do, and yet ironically ends up getting manipulated by Sean Parker, founder of Napster and, now, consultant to Facebook. He ends up making Zuckerberg highly unlikeable. For all his failings and downfalls, everything that happens to him he brings upon himself, even if he does feel some sense of remorse and regret for what happens between him and Saverin. To paraphrase the last line of the film, he's not an asshole, he's just trying so hard to be.

Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, and the only character in the film you feel sorry for. Here, it plays out that Saverin got absolutely screwed by Zuckerberg and Parker, thus the breakdown in relations between the two co-founders. You see Saverin trying to fight a losing battle as he sees Zuckerberg getting manipulated by Sean Parker right in front of his eyes. This leads onto Sean Parker himself, played by Justin Timberlake. A good performance, but this film portrays Parker as nothing more than an asshole. He's absolutely irredeemable; he dabbles with drugs (which ultimately leads to his forced exit from Facebook), he walks into and out of business ventures on a whim, and leads Zuckerberg to start dreaming of bigger things for The Facebook, promising billions rather than millions. Timberlake puts in a really convincing performance as a Machiavellian manipulator, goading Zuckerberg to taste the forbidden fruit and to cut out his best friend from the business they started together. An honourable mention goes to Armie Hammer who plays both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin rowers who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea for a Harvard-wide social network.

This film hinges on three things: The relationship (and eventual breakdown of) between Zuckerberg and Saverin, the question of whether or not Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss twins, and the burgeoning relationship between Zuckerberg and Parker. It's a mess of storylines which could easily have become congested, but Fincher and Sorkin keep everything in check, telling the story in flashback after the opening 15 minutes. The two anchors, which the story always goes back to, are the two lawsuit depositions in which Zuckerberg is testifying; one from the Winklevoss's and one from Saverin. It's a good way to keep the story grounded, to always have a reference point, and it's also a good way of explaining what's going on. It also acts well in juxtaposing images of Saverin and Zuckerberg's friendship as told in the flashback main story with their more recent 'hatred' for one another in the deposition, with this setting becoming crucial and more dramatic near the end. Watch out for the 'signing your own death certificate' scene for some real drama and possibly the best scene in the movie.

Overall, for a film about Facebook, you don't see the actual website an awful lot in the 2 hours you spend watching this. But then, that's because this film's not really about Facebook the website. This film is about Facebook's creation, mainly Mark Zuckerberg and the friendships/relationships he forms/destroys. It's extremely well written, and visually it's akin to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Fincher has developed a 'look'. It's surprisingly engrossing and delivers some real moments of tension and drama, as well as some well-needed light relief in places. Anyone looking for OMG's and LOL's will be sorely disappointed.

Rating: ****1/2