CHICAGO (CBS) ― “The Social Network” turns what might have been a somewhat dry creation story of interest only to whiz kids and computer nerds into a compelling Greek tragedy for the internet age.
In this retelling of the story of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, The seeds of Facebook are sown in scorn, contempt, ambition and petty revenge. In an opening scene of dizzying wordplay, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend engage in verbal fencing at a bar. It’s a battle of parries and retorts and there’s enough dialogue in this opening 5 minute scene for the first 30 minutes of other films. But it sets the sorkian rhythms right off the bat.
After the ugly breakup at the bar Zuckerberg hacks into the computer systems at Harvard and creates a ‘hot or not’ website called Facemash consisting of the pictures of female classmates. It proves so popular it crashes the school network.
This gets him disciplined by Harvard and attracts the attention of identical twin upper class rowing jocks (both played by Armie Hammer) who want him to help them build a site called “The Harvard Connection.” Shortly afterward the idea of Facebook came to fruition and a social networking revolution was born.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and Director David Fincher focus their film on Zuckerberg while telling the story from three different points of view via the depositions in lawsuits against him. One is from his best (and only) friend at harvard Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who put up the money to co-found the company and then later finds himself frozen out of its future. The other is from the harvard twins who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea for himself.
Zuckerberg’s character flaws are on full display but he’s never reduced to a one dimensional boogeyman. His actions may be anti-social and nakedly ambitious, but they always make sense from his unique point of view. And he’s allowed the creative freedom to be complex. Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as a computer nerd with a ruthless contempt for society’s clubs who is nonetheless extremely curious about what makes them tick. Justin Timberlake has the just right amount of irresistible charm and flair as Sean Parker, the fellow internet pioneer and founder of Napster who sells Zuckerberg on life in the fast lane and opens up avenues to even bigger riches.
Some have been calling this the defining film of the decade. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s easily one of the best of the year and is right up there with the best movies David Fincher has ever done.