The Review: Every generation has one or more events that shape and define it, transforming the lives of those living through it and allowing those who look back on it in later years to understand it better. In the twentieth century we had two world wars, jazz and rock and roll transformed music, television and the cinema transformed the visual arts, and in the twenty-first century? We have a thing on your computer or your phone which allows you to play farm or jewel games, to stalk people you used to go to school with and to tell all your friends when you’ve had a bowel movement. It’s easy to be sniffy about Facebook (really, it is – I just did it, try it if you don’t believe me), but social media, of which Facebook is the pre-eminent form, have transformed the way that we interact with each other. My online friends range from their early teens to their late eighties and every demographic in between; but how do you capture such an abstract concept on screen?
First, you hire Aaron Sorkin, responsible for one of the foremost small screen achievements (The West Wing) of the last ten years. Sorkin also scripted A Few Good Men, famous for its Cruise / Nicholson courtroom confrontations, which is handy, as this is where The Social Network spends most of its running time, for of course the more interesting story is not about Facebook itself, but about the men (or should that be boys?) who created it. Sorkin is a past master at getting the most out of static situations, because he knows how to write cracking dialogue, but he also knows how to structure a story, and so when the prospect of sitting through a succession of depositions where the finer details of the story of Facebook’s creation gradually unfold feel too dry, Sorkin’s solution is to interleave the court actions with the rest of the narrative, admitting a Rashomon influence in terms of the use of differing viewpoints, and we are actually left to work out for ourselves initially what’s happening and when, as the timeline skips back and forth from past to present.
Then, you hire David Fincher. When he realises that Sorkin’s script is fantastic, but is coming in at over two and a half hours, his simple solution is to crank up the pace of the dialogue. Relentless, straight from the off we’re thrust into a scene with Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica who isn’t real but just a construct of Sorkin’s to engage us in the narrative but she and Mark rattle through their conversation and in eight minutes they flirt with each other’s attention and they talk and they fight and they grandstand and Erica tells Mark what she really thinks of him and she walks out and Mark’s off and he’s inspired and he makes Facemash and his friends get involved and his ideas get bigger and he’s growing out and outgrowing them and we see where he was and where he is and how it comes together and how it moves so fast and never stops and you have to keep up but soon you adjust to the pace and the speeches burst out like a Marx brother on speed but it’s exhilarating and it whips by so quick that by the time you realise Mark’s out of his depth… The Social Network has you in its grip.
None of this would be possible without the quality of the cast that Fincher’s then assembled. Jesse Eisenberg falls into that genre of young actors that causes regular comparisons to Michael Cera, but like the curly-haired Scott Pilgrim star, Eisenberg brings great subtlety and variety to the roles he plays, and his Mark Zuckerberg is multi-faceted, at once compelling but dislikeable, pathetic but powerful, driven by his ego and a walking contradiction in terms. Andrew Garfield has the less showy role as his closest, possibly only friend, Eduardo Saverin, who mirrors Mark in key ways and then proves the diametric opposite in others. Rounding out the headlining trio is the character of Sean Parker, who is probably the closest to a rock star that the internet generation’s had; so who better to play him than Justin Timberlake, in a sort of life-imitates-art kind of way? Well, that would be fine if Timberlake could act, of course, but instead it’s remarkable, Timberlake is a revelation and serves to add further momentum when he’s introduced just when you thought that wasn’t possible.
Everyone else is fantastic, including Arnie Hammer as the Winkevoss twins, which also serves to underline the depth of technical flair going on that you may not even notice. But crucially, the movie manages to stay impartial, using the varied viewpoints to explain actions without at any point sitting in judgement, although there are various inferences to Mark’s similarity to a certain bolidy orifice but the overall attitude is more of pity than disdain towards him. Somehow, the talent assembled have taken what could have been a simple story of a trivial software development and made very much an epoch-defining movie which effectively explains Facebook’s relevance to the social strata of today at the same time that it spins its classic tale of men seeking power and clashing egos. Fincher is now developing a long list of masterpieces and remains one of the most remarkable directing talents of the last twenty years; The Social Network sits very well in that company.
Why see it at the cinema: Because Fincher and Sorkin are masters of the art form, and this really does justify the praise and awards talk being heaped on it.
The Score: 10/10