Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Film review: 'Social Network' talky, but a must-see morality tale

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in‭ ‬The‭ ‬Social Network.

By Hap Erstein

The central irony of The Social Network is that while the website Facebook was devised to bring friends together,‭ ‬it split longtime friends among its creators apart.

Populated with hyper-smart,‭ ‬glibly articulate characters based on real people,‭ ‬this is that rare studio release that allows itself to wallow in dialogue and gives moviegoers credit for being willing to listen.‭ ‬Although directed with assurance and restraint by David Fincher‭ (‬Fight Club,‭ ‬The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‭)‬,‭ ‬the film really belongs to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin,‭ ‬who gives it the same bullet-train verbal quality that became his signature on TV‭’‬s‭ ‬The West Wing.

The story of arrogant,‭ ‬snide Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg‭ (‬played pointedly by a nerdy,‭ ‬sullen Jesse Eisenberg‭)‬,‭ ‬his invention of Facebook and the lawsuits he incurred as a result,‭ ‬The Social Network begins in a Cambridge pub.‭ ‬There,‭ ‬after a round of verbal sparring,‭ ‬his had-it-up-to-here girlfriend‭ (‬Rooney Mara,‭ ‬son to be‭ ‬The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Fincher‭’‬s remake‭) ‬dumps him and Mark jogs back to his dorm to slam-blog her as well as exact revenge against all Harvard coeds by posting a which-one-is-hotter‭ ‬Website.

From there,‭ ‬it is a short hop to coming up with Facebook,‭ ‬initially a vehicle for hooking up with Crimson cuties.‭ ‬Enter Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss,‭ ‬two hulking,‭ ‬WASPy,‭ ‬privileged twins who row crew and enlist Zuckerberg in creating a social‭ ‬Website of their own,‭ ‬eventually suing him for allegedly stealing the idea for Facebook from them.‭ ‬When they take their grievance to Harvard president Larry Summers‭ (‬a drolly uninterested Doug Urbanski‭)‬,‭ ‬the result is a sequence of gem-like dry humor.

Interspersed throughout the film are scenes of deposition-taking as Zuckerberg is grilled by lawyers for the Winklevosses and for his former best friend,‭ ‬Eduardo Saverin‭ (‬Andrew Garfield‭)‬,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Facebook chief financial officer who gets left in the dust when the site takes off.‭ ‬Mark‭’‬s contempt for those he perceives as his intellectual inferiors‭ ‬--‭ ‬which us to say just about everyone‭ ‬--‭ ‬is nicely illustrated by his witheringly sarcastic comebacks to the attorney interrogations.

Ultimately,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬the movie is stolen from Eisenberg by Justin Timberlake,‭ ‬who gives a very crafty,‭ ‬unctuous performance as nouveau riche elder wunderkind Sean Parker.‭ ‬The founder of Napster,‭ ‬he takes it upon himself to advise and mentor Mark,‭ ‬luring him to Silicon Valley,‭ ‬worming his way into the Facebook hierarchy and ultimately engineering the marginalization of Eduardo.

By the film‭’‬s end,‭ ‬Fincher and Sorkin leave it up to us to decide who are the villains of these obsessive machinations,‭ ‬but no one really comes off well.‭ ‬The Social Network is indeed a morality tale for our times.

If the movie belongs to Sorkin‭ ‬--‭ ‬an Oscar screenplay nomination seems a sure thing‭ ‬--‭ ‬Fincher deserves a lot of credit for the film‭’‬s insistent forward motion.‭ ‬The Social Network is wordy,‭ ‬but it never feels static.‭ ‬And in a signature Fincher touch,‭ ‬employing the digital wizardry of‭ ‬Benjamin Button without calling attention to itself,‭ ‬ponder as you watch the Winklevoss twins that they are both played by a single actor‭ ‬--‭ ‬Armie Hammer‭ ‬--‭ ‬with the aid of a body double.

Still,‭ ‬The Social Network is a movie of ideas,‭ ‬not special effects,‭ ‬a harbinger that perhaps we really have turned the corner from the summer to awards-worthy autumn.‭ ‬This is a film that is going to generate water cooler conversation,‭ ‬a must-see movie that just might put Facebook‭ ‬--‭ ‬barreling on to its‭ ‬1‭ ‬billionth member before long‭ ‬--‭ ‬on the map.

The Social Network‭ ‬is rated‭ ‬PG-13.‭ ‬Opening Friday in area theaters.

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