On the surface, The Social Network sounds like a blatant cash-in by movie executives who heard something about the ‘social networking’ phenomenon and were trying to make a quick buck off the “status update” obsessed. But when you hear modifiers like “Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin” and “David Fincher Directed,” it’s hard not to pick up your ears and take notice.
What could have been a black and white origin story for the computer age (a story which, up until now, hasn’t been brought to the silver screen – I’m looking at you Pirates of Silicon Valley) is actually one of the most thought provoking movies of the year
In case you’re uninitiated to the backstory of Facebook’s rise to power, The Social Network works hard to keep you in the loop. Back in the early 2000’s at Harvard, an enterprising young computer science student named Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) teamed up with his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to create a social networking revolution. The only problem? Zuckerberg appears to have stolen the idea for The Facebook from a pair of old-school Harvard brothers, the Winklevoss Twins (both played by Armie Hammer). What follows is the complex fallout from these events as the lawsuits and betrayals begin to pile up.
Throughout the narrative, ambiguous and shifting relationships between characters are the source of drama, which ends up resulting in a refreshingly complex storyline. With the way Sorkin frames the story, there is little question regarding whether Zuckerberg is guilty of stealing the idea for Facebook. Rather, our questions come regarding the conflict generated by the larger-than-life personalities on display. The film asks you to take sides and consider who is right and who is wrong in a situation with serious moral ambiguity. Sorkin does an amazing job of playing with the allegiances between the audience and the leads of the film. It takes a strong screenplay to make viewers truly feel sympathy for an anti-hero, but Sorkin pulls off Zuckerberg’s character with an overly-wordy ease.
If it feels odd to be praising such a film so heavily based on its screenplay, that’s because the script is the runaway star of the movie. Yes, Fincher’s visuals are filled with amazing shots of darkly stained wood, the sexiest Harvard student’s you’ll ever see, and at least one breathtaking tilt-shift sequence, but they all have the unmistakable feeling that they are only serving the greater power of the screenplay.
When it comes down to it, the “Facebook movie” is not really about Facebook at all. Sure, praise is heaped on the ingenious premise of Facebook in the first act, but beyond this the story focuses almost exclusively on the relationships of this set of flawed individuals. You’ll question whether Zuckerberg was right to say X to Eduardo, or ask if the Winklevoss Twins should have done Y in this way or another. And the beauty of it all is that there are no clear answers. The story is constructed to leave the character’s actions open to interpretation, in order to make the viewer think about his or her own moral compass and what they would do if presented with such a situation.
I could write on and on about the minutiae of the film, such as Justin Timberlake’s impressive role as Napster founder Sean Parker, but those are so clever and brilliant that they shouldn’t be spoiled for anyone. Without a doubt, The Social Network is one of the most compelling stories put to film this year.
Just think of Zuckerberg as the web 2.0 version of Tony Montana.
The Social Network is equal parts cool and thought provoking. Sorkin’s script soars under the direction of a masterful David Fincher. A character-driven delight the whole way through.
Toby Jones: Far from being the best film of the decade or even the best of the year, The Social Network is an exceptional film hampered a bit by its coldness. Overall Score: 77