The Social Network

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B+

On the surface, The Social Network seems like a very difficult movie to pitch. A two-hour movie consisting entirely of dialogue and populated by rich assholes and web-geeks from Harvard and a handful of lawyers (who turn out to be the friendliest of the bunch). Sorry, I can’t see studios beating each other up over the rights to make this film. But that’s missing the point entirely. What Hollywood studios want more than anything these days is a built-in audience. And it doesn’t come more built-in than 500 million Facebook users. Everyone you know either loves, hates, uses or abuses Facebook. Its impact on daily life is almost as inescapable as the internet itself.

I guess what surprises me most is not the interest the film generated, but its staying power. Two weeks as number 1 at the box office (although, surely it will be crushed by Jackass 3D this week) and universally praised by critics and the public alike, The Social Network — despite being a dialogue-driven, part legal drama, part riches to more riches story — has entranced America. Maybe I don’t give American audiences enough credit, but they always let me down by making sure Katherine Heigl’s latest non-com is top 3 at the B.O.

It probably all boils down to this: Facebook or not, tech-talk driven or not, David Fincher has made a fantastic movie.

The Social Network is a hyperbolic and enhanced version of the Facebook origin story. How much or how little of the story is true is not really all that important. It’s not a biopic. It’s a story about jealousy, revenge and greed. The true story of Facebook, while I’m sure is packed with juicy bits, probably falls well short of the condensed onscreen version here, which is backstab after backstab. The producers and marketers wrap the film in a veil of truth, hoping to win over an America obsessed with reality. We’ll believe anything — who cares as long as it’s entertaining. I mean, what is reality TV anyway, but backstabbing, revenge and greed? It’s all dialogue, one argument following another, storylines built in the editing room.

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That’s pretty much what we have in The Social Network, except deftly crafted and defined by Fincher and Sorkin (screenplay). The photography by Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club) has the signature green tint and underexposed look that Fincher requires from his DPs. The camera work of the rowing race is worth a mention. Beautiful tilt-shifted shots combined with close-ups of the rowers created an intensity which I imagine can only be rivaled by actually participating in crew.

The dialogue is knife-like, cutting through scenes like molten battery acid. The editing of Sorkin’s screenplay comes off Mamet-like — characters talk over, interrupt and slice one another up in quick, sardonic bursts of false indifference.

The movie works in many ways, but mostly in the casting. Jesse Eisenberg is proving over and over he has the versatility to tackle any role. The normally very likable Eisenberg amps the snark up to 11 and turns in a layered portrait of the programming genius Mark Zuckerburg. I can’t remember disliking a character this much in a long time.

The Social Network holds our attention. Maybe it’s part jealousy — the idea of Facebook is so simple, I bet you think you could have easily dreamed up the same thing or better. I do. But it’s so maddeningly clever and complex, we’d never have done it as good. Hopefully it will inspire someone to come up with a better Facebook, a new, brilliant, yet conceived idea. We’ll watch a movie about him/her and think the same thing — what an asshole.

tags: aaron sorkin, david fincher, jesse eisenberg

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