Today, it is rare to find someone who isn’t connected to any form of social networking site, be it Twitter, MySpace or Facebook. It was only a matter of time before a film focused on one of these sites came about and it is only fitting that the most popular site is the one to receive the Hollywood treatment. And it isn’t a form of branding by any means. It is because there is an interesting back story here, being presented by director David Fincher (Fight Club) and writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War). What they have crafted here is a film that is engaging, funny, tense and emotionally driven with material that could’ve been perceived as a slow and quite boring courtroom drama. But the film which has been made here has something to say about today’s society and portrays the origins of Facebook in a character driven narrative with some outstanding performances and expert writing.

The film follows Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard computer genius behind Facebook, through a jumpy narrative cutting back and forth between two court cases and the story of the Facebook origins. The two court cases in question; Zuckerberg being sued by two rowers from Harvard for supposedly stealing their idea for a certain social networking site, and also his best friend Eduardo (future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield) who is suing Zuckerberg for his right to the credit of co-creator and gain royalties for effectively being screwed over. All the while we see the how Facebook became what it is today, starting out from an act of revenge from a break-up to becoming the phenomenon it is today. The way the narrative is constructed can be hard to follow but you do mange to grasp it if you pay attention. 

The story is effectively a character study, mainly of Mark Zuckerberg and his relationships that are either founded or destroyed by the creation of Facebook. You can’t help but feel the drama of some situations in the movie have been heightened over what the reality really was, but that’s part of the fun of story-telling, and that is actually telling a story from the material you have and ensuring that the cast has something to work with. And Fincher certainly has managed to get great performances all round from his young cast. The stand out is Jesse Eisenberg in the role of Zuckerberg. Initially in the first scene, where you are instantly introduced to the quick and sharp writing of Aaron Sorkin, you get the impression that this is just going to be the same Eisenberg we’ve seen in the likes of Zombieland and Adventureland. But the he plays the character with a very nervous disposition that still evokes sympathy even in moments when he is being a complete and utter asshole. He is a man of few words, with the occasionally quickly spoken outburst who seems to avoid conflict, or put it off by finding solace in the comfort of technology and his blogging. His genius is both his greatest attribute and biggest flaw, too pre-occupied to care about the feelings of others around him, yet also a sensitive guy who cares about image and his friends he screws over, even if his feelings aren’t right on the surface you feel deep down he does care, it’s just that he is very protective over the Facebook creation he’s willing to destroy all that is close to him in order to see it reach its potential. Zuckerberg is a character you can’t figure out, and you’re not supposed to, thanks to Sorkin’s development of him and Eisenberg’s layered portrayal; just when you think he only cares about the credit he believes he deserves, the ending comes along and puts you right back where you started with him, which is not knowing what to make of him.

If the sole attention of this film was on Zuckerberg then you would still have one hell of a movie, but Fincher and Sorkin also want to focus on the main players involved with the creation of Facebook. Andrew Garfield has a lot more of a straight forward character to play with Eduardo, our feelings towards him staying sympathetic throughout, as he tries to be a good friend and excel where his interests lie, only to have his commitment shoved right back in his face. Garfield gives a strong performance, maintaining this sympathy and an immense likeability to his good-natured character. Justin Timberlake is really a pleasant surprise in this movie, putting across an excellently arrogant performance in the role of Sean Parker, who is idolised by Mark. His character also develops very well, first appearing as a very confident and determined individual, but is slowly revealed to be a deceiving and very flawed individual. As one character states, every creation story needs a demon, I believe this demon comes in the form of Timberlake’s Parker, who is the driving force behind the breakdown of the friendship between Mark and Eduardo. Others may argue Mark is the demon in his own creation story, but it is Parker that brings in new temptations and a devilish charm to take Mark to the next level that Facebook needs to become the phenomenon it now is, but at what cost? The rest of the cast all turn in fine performances, but it is the three central performances that really grab your attention, particularly Eisenberg.

David Fincher has come along way since his troubled debut with Alien 3, but now he is one of the most acclaimed and competent directors working in Hollywood. He has proven himself in many genres, mostly being crime flicks like Seven; but his last movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button showed he could handle more mainstream sombre fair, and he always manages to maintain a certain dark, yet visually engaging, style, helped fantastically by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ atmospheric soundtrack. The Social Network doesn’t open itself up to elaborate set pieces, but Fincher makes excellent use of the surrounding he has to work with, the closest thing to action being a highly enjoyable and expertly shot rowing scene. He has a knack for making anything seem stylish, be it sitting in a college dormitory or a conversation in a club in California. He makes everything engaging, but this is also thanks largely to Aaron Sorkin’s witty and sharp script which keeps the movie moving along at a very steady pace, and it ends just at the point when you start to think they should wrap it all up. Sorkin’s sharp writing compliments Fincher’s visual flair extremely well, adding substance to the style to create a fine piece of film-making.

The movie also has something to say about the way Facebook has changed the way in which we live our lives, and how relationships can be built or lost from something posted on your page. There is one scene that particularly resonates with I’m sure many Facebook users, as Eduardo’s girlfriend bases a whole relationship argument on the fact that his relationship status says he is single. Eduardo honestly just hasn’t been on to change it, but his girlfriend believes it gives her justification to be a bit of a psycho bitch and set fire to a gift he gave her and potentially burn down his apartment. Now this may be a bit extreme, but it is an excellent way of showing the effect that something like Facebook has on the structure of so many people’s lives and relationships, it is slowly taking over the way we communicate and interact with the outside world. The Social Network is a movie that has something to say, a movie with substance, a movie that has no need to rely on the latest effects and computer wizardry to present its story, but solely on the talent its cast and crew, with top-notch results. 

5/5– Witty, intelligent, riveting and touching; The Social Network is an outstanding piece of contemporary cinema, and one of the finest pieces of traditional filmmaking you’ll see this year.

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