Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw Reviews The Social Network
Facebook is a social media giant that has indisputably changed the world, affecting everything from how people share their lives, to how people market, promote and sell businesses, products and even their own talents. In fact, Facebook is so prevalent in our modern digital age that it even has the power to change the topography of culture, pop-culture, art, politics, and in rare cases, even religion.
Given that Facebook is what it is today, I must admit that it's somewhat surprising that it has taken this long for a movie to be made about its origins. And while that movie, The Social Network, is an interesting and visually rich exploration of the events that led up to arguably the most influential invention of a generation, a lackluster ending and overall feeling of pointlessness mark it well short of being the film which defines a generation.
By now the basic story behind the invention of Facebook is pretty well known: In 2003, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) came up with an idea: take the entire social experience of Harvard and turn it into a comprehensive website in a way that other sites like MySpace and Friendster had never envisioned. Along with two of his programmer pals, and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) supplying the startup capital, Zuckerberg created "The Facebook," an early blueprint of what would eventually become the social networking Juggernaut we know today.
Of course with any rose of an idea come thorns, and Zuckerberg's meteoric rise to fame (and infamy) comes at the cost of multiple legal skirmishes and shattered personal relationships. Being at the forefront of a trend can be be a lonely experience.
There is a lot about The Social Network that is impressive. The film was directed by David Fincher, the man behind some great pieces of cinema such as Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, and the Oscar-nominated Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher fans generally know and love the acclaimed director for his three main signatures: a perfectionist attitude, impeccable camerawork and his dark yet vividly-colored cinematography. All three of those Fincher signatures can be found in The Social Network, offering viewers a feast for the eye. The early scenes set in Harvard are by far the most gorgeous, taking the historic university and giving it an edgy, dark, rock video sheen. I'm fairly sure Harvard has never looked so cool.
Fincher (with help from his screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin) structures the film in way that's somewhat surprising, yet at the same time refreshing and clever. Most memoir films are pretty linear in form (beginning of the event, up until the thematic climax), however The Social Network takes another approach. At first it seems as though we're getting the standard beginning-to-end structure, but around the 20-30 minute mark the film suddenly begins to jump around in space and time, showing Zuckerberg caught up in the midst of various legal battles.
It's a bit jarring at first, until Fincher eases us into the realization that it's actually the conversations in these legal depositions that are driving the story. Lawyers ask questions, and the answers lead to flashbacks about Facebook's inception; what is revealed in those flashbacks lead to further legal questions which jump us yet again to one deposition or another, as Zuckerberg tries to defend "his creation" from various attackers. It sounds more confusing than it actually is; in the hands of a skilled orchestrator like Fincher, this unique structure works to the movie's benefit, adding a sense of movement to what could've been a boring film, otherwise.
The performances are pretty spectacular - especially those of the two leads, Eisenberg and Garfield. Eisenberg has been tagged in some circles as "the other Michael Cera," referring to the latter actor's penchant for playing the loveable nerd in virtually every role he takes on. This is not at all true for Eisenberg, who portrays Mark Zuckerberg as something of a tragically ironic figure: an acerbic genius who is totally clueless when it comes to human interaction; a guy who earns fortune and fame off a website dedicated to social circling, but has very few "real friends" to call his own.
Eisenberg flat-out steals just about every scene he's in, glaring at people around him like they are nitwits, while delivering scathing insights that could make a person feel that very way. A definite standout performance that is worthy of recognition (provided people don't find his character too unlikable).
Andrew Garfield is a fast-rising star: he's already been tapped as the new Spider-Man in Sony's reboot of that franchise, and he has another prestige picture, Never Let Me Go, due out this fall. Here, Garfield plays a near-perfect straight man foil to Eisenberg's eccentric genius. Eduardo Saverin is the type of smart kid who (ironically enough) prefers the actual social experience of college to sitting in dim-lit dorm rooms creating an online imitation of it. Garfield successfully builds Saverin into a three-dimensional character with a range of a emotions, a slightly naive kid caught up in a gold rush that is moving way too fast for him (or anyone) to keep ahead of.
The scenes of Saverin and Zuckerberg in their happy days at Harvard juxtapose well to the later days when they're ultimately sitting across the table from one another, talking through lawyers. The climatic scene of their falling out actually packs some emotional punch, which is a credit that goes directly to the talents of both young men.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster who eventually partners with Zuckerberg to transform Facebook into the behemoth it is today. Timberlake manages to shed his celebrity image and slip into his role pretty well, portraying Parker as an extremely savvy businessman who is simultaneously chock full of B.S.. All in all, Timberlake continues to prove that he is not the joke of an actor some people may want to label him as.