Monday, October 11, 2010

"The Social Network"

Mark Zuckerberg is a douche bag. I was pretty well solidified in this opinion before seeing “The Social Network” and the viewing did nothing to sway that thought. Like so many “Creatives”, whether actor, musician, artist, or inventor as the case may be, Zuckerberg doesn’t understand or perhaps doesn’t have time for people he considers to be less significant than him. You probably know or have known one of these guys. The type of person who can’t conform to social conventions, doesn’t seem to value your portion of the conversation, and simply can’t figure out a way to bridge the gap between himself and the “regular” people. This guy is usually extremely talented but more often than not, he’s almost unbearable. It’s why bands break up and wide receivers get traded. At some point, the “Creative” turns from “misunderstood genius” to just plain “jerk” and either breaks off on his own or gets left behind by people who can’t deal with him anymore. In Zuckerberg’s case, what transpired is the former and that’s where “The Social Network” comes in.

Set in 2003, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), both angry and drunk, hacks the school’s system and creates a crude website that compares the year book photos of two girls on campus, allowing viewers to choose who is hotter. Within a few hours the website crashes the network and makes Zuckerberg a legend. Soon after, he is approached by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer), the school’s star crew rowers and the definition of a legacy, who hire him to program a site which ultimately amounts to a Harvard-only dating site. Zuckerberg accepts the offer but performs no work on the project (setting up the first of two lawsuits). Instead, he begins working on a new adaptation of his previous website, an effort that requires some capital investment. With this in mind, he turns to his best (and perhaps only) friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) gives him the $1000 he needs to make the site operational in exchange for a thirty percent stake in the company (setting the stage for the second lawsuit). When “The Facebook” becomes an overnight success, Zuckerberg embarks on a whirlwind 18 month journey that involves the previously mentioned lawsuits, the betrayal of his best friend, and the development of his dorm room creation into a multi-billion dollar business that reaches over 500 million people worldwide.

From top to bottom, I can’t remember a recent drama, let alone a biopic, that is better than “The Social Network.” I confess I find myself a little bit obsessed with this film so please bear with me as I try to compartmentalize its merits. It is so well put together that you almost overlook the acting which is quite strong across the board. Eisenberg truly encapsulates all of the facets that make a guy like Zuckerberg both successful in his field and an utter failure in most everything else. He is egotistic, narcissistic, and brash while at the same time completely insecure and low on self-esteem. Insecurity is the key to this role. Insecurity is what drives a guy like Zuckerberg (at least as portrayed in this film) and it taints every other aspect of his being. If Eisenberg misses the mark on this “quality” then the entire movie falls flat. He doesn’t miss, however; rather, he nails this vital portion of the Zuckerberg mentality.

Garfield delivers a similarly deep performance. At his core, Saverin is a good person and that is ultimately what dooms him. There’s a hint of suspicion in every move he makes along the Zuckerberg Path but he still chooses to take the walk. Garfield uses facial expressions, body language, and the briefest of hesitations to convey the understanding that, deep down, Saverin knows that eventually his best friend will stab him in the back. Hammer also performs admirably as the scene-stealing Winklevoss twins. The dual vision of Hammer is a commanding presence and he uses that perfectly to convey both a slight sense of intimidation and a touch of helplessness that plays sympathetically to the audience. And then there’s Justin Timberlake, who’s Sean Parker (the creator of Napster) provides the intrepid spirit of adventure and recklessness that Zuckerberg needs to push himself beyond small-time notoriety and into the realm of world renowned (and full-on jackass mode). It’ll be a surprise if Timberlake doesn’t pull a Best Supporting Actor nod when Oscar nominations are released.

But the excellence of “The Social Network” goes far beyond the strength of its actors. Literally every aspect of this film is perfect or darn close to it. Director David Fincher assembled a tremendous group of talented individuals to add to his own enormous level of skill. The casting is magnificent and Fincher masterfully uses that, putting each actor in a position to succeed and pulling the very best effort out of every one of them. Aaron Sorkin (probably best known for “The West Wing”) wrote a brilliantly worded, wonderfully paced script that pretty much falls right in line with his other works. His style is unmistakable to the degree that, without any knowledge of his involvement in the film, I could peg the dialogue as Sorkin’s about one minute into the opening scene. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails delivers a powerful, edgy score that drives the film and subtly builds the drama. It is without question the best score in recent memory and one that is SURE to garner a few awards. Even the sound mix, a facet of filmmaking that you almost never notice, is perfectly balanced in a way that makes you feel as if you are in the movie. Every tiny detail of “The Social Network” is painstakingly thought out and exquisitely put together.

Being the fan of hyperbole that I am, it would be easy for me to call “The Social Network” the best movie of the year. I’m going to avoid that statement but I have no doubt that it will absolutely clean up when award season rolls around. The real stroke of genius, and what sets it apart from so many other biopics, is its treatment of its muse. Zuckerberg is not painted in a favorable light and there’s no sugarcoating of his actions despite his considerable brilliance. By going that route, Fincher shows the four billion dollar man to be quite a sad character, a symbol of what the combination of greed and insecurity can get you in the extreme.

This has to be the first Fincher film in which no one dies,

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