Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Social Network / **** (PG-13)

Mark Zuckerberg: Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Saverin: Andrew Garfield
Sean Parker: Justin Timberlake
Cameron Winklevos/Tyler Winklevos: Armie Hammer
Divya Narendra: Max Minghella
Erica Albright: Rooney Mara
Christy: Brenda Song
Marylin Delpy: Rashida Jones

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by David Fincher. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. Running time: 120 min. Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language).

“How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SAT?”
   Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network”

The simple answer to that question is to invent the most innovative and inclusive social media networking website the Internet has seen. The new movie about the creation of Facebook and the legal battle over its property rights, “The Social Network”, also suggests a very specific set of personality quirks are necessary to pull off such a feat. Zuckerberg did much more than distinguish himself from the Harvard crowd with his creation. He became the youngest multi-billionaire ever. He provided the population of the world with its biggest distraction since the invention of television. He drew two high profile lawsuits against his intellectual ownership of the property of Facebook. And, according the this film, he attempted to redefine the term ‘asshole.’

Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin attempt to soften that final claim in the closing moments of the movie when a character observes of Zuckerberg, “You’re not an asshole. You’re just trying so hard to be one.” Well, in my experience, someone who tries to be an alpha hotel—as my Marine Corps father would refer to one—is one. I don’t know if the real Zuckerberg is anything like the character created by Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland”) in this movie. Nor am I sure he’s trying to be an alpha hotel as much as he brings being one to new heights. It’s not so much his genius that drives him to be this way as it is his obsessive nature. What Fincher and Sorkin provide in this film is a fascinating portrait of those obsessions.

The film opens with a mind boggling and witty conversation between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) that leads to their breakup. This leads to Zuckerberg’s drunken blogging binge that ultimately has him and his friends creating the computer code that is the foundation of Facebook. Zuckerberg’s co-hort and the man responsible for that code is Eduardo Saverin, played here in a brilliant performance by British actor, Andrew Garfield (“Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974”). The film focuses primarily on the relationship between these two men.

Handling such recent, well-known history, Fincher intercuts scenes of the birth of Facebook in concept, then as a functioning, exploding business, with scenes from two separate legal depositions.  The first suit came from Olympian rowing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevos (both played by Armie Hammer, “Gossip Girl”), claiming Zuckerberg had stolen their idea for Facebook. The second is from Saverin, who had been forced out of his shares of the company after he was replaced as the company’s CFO. The Winklevoses publically settled for $65 million and a share in the company. They are currently suing Zuckerberg again, because they feel he misrepresented the true value of the company. Saverin, who is currently on the list of the 10 richest people under the age of 30, settled privately for an undisclosed amount.

But these are just the facts. What Fincher’s crafty direction suggests is that the facts don’t add up to the whole. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg like someone begging to be sued. The Winklevos lawsuit is just the price you have to pay for a venture as big as Facebook. The battle with his friend is personal and gives the audience the impression that Zuckerberg is something akin to a human handgrenade. When he pulls the pin, something big will happen, but the shrapnel will take out anyone standing too close.

When I first heard that Fincher—most well known for very darkly themed movies like “Seven” and “Zodiac”—would be making a film about the founders of Facebook, I thought, “What a strange and lighthearted subject for Fincher.” Boy, was I wrong. Fincher perfectly adapts the vengeful and petty emotions of these geniuses to his dark stylized vision. He even fits in one of his typical virtuoso sequences when he shows us one of the Winklevos’s races. He achieves an utterly unique effect in the set up to this racing sequence by showing the audience a real river with real boats, but they somehow look like toy models cruising up and down the canal.

Fincher and Sorkin’s greatest achievement here, however, it the cat and mouse relationship they establish between Zuckerberg and Saverin. Along with the original code, Saverin provides the money for the start up of the website. There are many background players adding to the code who are also co-founders of the uber-site, but the filmmakers don’t allow themselves to get distracted from the main players. It’s as if Zuckerberg and Saverin are more like family than friends. They know and understand each other. They respect each other. But they aren’t always sensitive to each other. That goes much more for Zuckerberg than Saverin. Eisenberg and Garfield establish this relationship through Sorkin’s amazing script, but also with two of the subtlest performances I’ve seen from such young performers.

I have little doubt that “The Social Network” will be all over the awards season with nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s based on the book “The Accidental Millionaires” by Ben Mezrich, although many claims of fabrication by both Mezrich and Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”) have been asserted.  I do also hope to see acting nominations for Eisenberg and Garfield for their fine work here.

I heard recently that the courtroom drama has been dying over the last decade. “The Social Network” is a different breed of courtroom drama, one for the age of the intellectual property lawsuit. The typical crime and punishment courtroom drama has been done and done again in Hollywood. This is legal drama for the insulted rather than the assaulted. David Fincher proves that the personal ego injury can be just as dramatic and thrilling as more physically violent crimes. This makes all those silly high school dramas remembered through Facebook look like slap fights compared to a heavyweight bout. And, it’s oh so much more entertaining than high school. Now I gotta go tell all my Facebook friends to go see this movie.

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