The Social Network

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Social Network
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

2003. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an undergrad at Harvard and a genius at computer programming. He seizes on an idea to integrate all the different college networks into an entity that will revolutionize internet communication worldwide. Six year later, Zuckerberg became the world’s youngest billionaire, but this led to enormous lawsuits and a personal crisis in “The Social Network.”

David Finchner, with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, brings us the story of the birth of Facebook and the impact it has on its current 500 million “friends.” Jesse Eisenberg gives his best performance to date as the hyperactive Mark Zuckerberg, bringing the ticks and slouch of his character to life on the screen. It helps that he has a superb ensemble cast to go along with the tight, crisp script and outstanding behind the camera work.

“The Social Network” is one of those films, though it has a large cast and complex story, that is so clearly told and finely performed that its two hour run time felt like a mere 90 minutes. (No small feat for someone how thinks that anything over an hour and a half is too long.) It has high drama, caustic wit, intelligent and believable dialog and cleanly lays out the birth of something big and the legal controversy it spawned. The country of Facebook, with its 500 million inhabitants, has the third largest population in the world, after China and India, showing a population boom from zero to its present, still-swelling number in just six short years. Talk about a population explosion!

Joining Eisenberg is a superb compliment of actors portraying the players in this high stakes drama. Justin Timberlake is notable as Mark’s muse and the founder of Napster, the free music internet phenomenon, Sean Parker. The actor displays a palpable joie de vie as the carefree character who is used to just his name opening doors. Andre Garfield garners sympathy as the money man in the Facebook scheme, Eduardo Saverin, who came out bottom man on the Facebook totem pole. Armie Hammer (with Josh Spence) plays the wealthy fellow students, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twin brothers who laid claim to the original idea for Facebook and sued Zuckerberg for millions.

Since its inception, I have avoided involvement in Facebook, caring not for its uses (which are draining its “friends” of real productivity) or its origins. David Fincher and company have changed my mind about the latter with an exciting parable about new millennium high tech, money and power. I give it an A.

After being dumped by girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, 2010's "A Nightmare on Elm Street") and a few too many drinks, Harvard University sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, "Zombieland") posted some nasty things about his ex on his blog, then hacked Harvard's student ID databases to take out his frustrations on all women by creating Facemash.  The game let users rate Harvard's female students via their pictures and went so ballistically viral it brought down Harvard's network overnight. His ensuing notoriety brought him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, channeling the voice of Don Draper, in a true breakout role) who asked him to program their website Harvard Connection, but instead Zuckerberg walked away and, backed by cash from best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, "Never Let Me Go"), created Facebook, attracted lawsuits and became the world's youngest billionaire in "The Social Network."

Director David Fincher's last masterpiece, "Zodiac," was completely ignored by Oscar, even though his flawed followup, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," scored nominations and a few wins.  With "The Social Network," look for Fincher's Oscar recognition to finally come home.  Writer Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," TV's "The West Wing") used multiple, often conflicting, points of view to develop his universal theme of class prejudice set within the distinctly twenty-first century business world of tapping the zeitgeist via software. Fincher directs by packing the pages into a rocket launcher, forcing his actors to propel themselves at a warp speed that gives his audience head rush.  It may not be completely factual, but the emotions at play feel true to Harvard's motto, Veritas.

After that brilliant, extended opening scene, Sorkin structures his screenplay as a series of flashbacks built around the depositions given for the lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, "Agora") for allegedly stealing their idea and by Saverin for being cheated out of his fair share of proceeds as a cofounder of Facebook.  This gives him the leeway to paint an impression based on opposing points of view (and considering Sorkin used Ben Mezrich's research for his book, "The Accidental Billionaire," his relative restraint lends his work credence).  From the all night coding sessions to campus celebrity with the opposite sex to Palo Alto, where Zuckerberg allowed himself to be dazzled by Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake exuding a huckster's confidence) much to the hurt, cautionary chagrin of Eduardo, the screenplay is a classic on friendships torn and made by business, on motivation of an outsider wanting to get in, made modern by its creation, an immaterial product to connect people while keeping them detached. The film subtly weaves Facebook features into its story, ending on a perfect back-to-the-beginning note.

Jesse Eisenberg is still recognizable as the kid who starred in "The Squid and the Whale" but Fincher's gotten a new level from the actor (there are stories of takes numbering in three digits).  His Zuckerberg has a cold facade with a multi-threaded brain running several beats before anyone else's, who speaks in a rat-a-tat monotone but whose eyes confess a longing to belong - if you look close enough.  That first extended scene with Rooney Mara tells us just about everything we need to know about the guy - he unwittingly insults the woman he loves by stating the fact that she doesn't need to study because she goes to BU.  She tells him that dating him is 'like dating a Stairmaster.' Watch the way Eisenberg doesn't *quite* sneer when he refers to the twins as Winklevi, putting them in their place as a species beneath, the same way he unhesitatingly flouts authority (a HU IT admin board, deposition lawyers).

Speaking of Harvard, Fincher, the visual maestro, seems to have been given unprecedented access to the grounds, but most of it was shot at Phillips Academy.  Still, the film is drenched in realistic touches, from talk of its inconsistent IT structure to an overhead shot of Zuckerberg running from the Science Center.  A scene of the Winklevi appealing to Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) to uphold Harvard's ethics is a comical delight.  "Fight Club" cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth shoots in the cool blue/greens of Facebook with Harvard given its gloomy burgundies.  Scoring by Trent Reznor (whose "Closer" famously opened Fincher's "Se7en") and Atticus Ross is like progressive rock funnelled through new wave synthesizers, intellectual emotion computerized.  End credit song, The Beatles' "Baby, You're a Rich Man," is perfect.

Fincher initially seemed like a mismatch for this material, but now it is hard to imagine anyone else equaling what he's orchestrated here.  He's a technical virtuoso who is also able to get to the heart of the matter and "The Social Network" is the film to beat this year.


The DVD:
Back when DVD technology was beginning to replace the laserdisc, DVD extras were as voluminous as their much pricier forerunners's, often referred to as mini film schools.  Now that Blu-Ray is replacing old school DVD, regular DVDs often have scant additional material.  Not so "The Social Network" which not only includes two audio commentaries, but two whole hours of additional material on a separate disc.  The usual French and Spanish language options and subtitles are here too.

The first 'extra' is titled 'How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook.'  It's split into four sections - 'Commencement,' 'Boston,' 'Los Angeles' and 'The Lot' - a featurette by way of location. Cast and crew members filmed against a white background offer anecdotes (Eisenberg's are the most atypical and interesting) interspersed with on set video.  We learn about the rehearsal process, how locations and extras were used and directed, see hair and makeup tests.  We find out that the decision to digitally graft Armie Hammer's face onto Josh Spence's body wasn't made until after Spence had the role and his reaction to it (Eisenberg's take on the situation is priceless). It is an eye opener to see how incredibly exacting Fincher is as a director and how involved screenwriter Sorkin was during filming - in fact Fincher left the set for the last bit of shooting, leaving it all in Sorkin's hands.

Additional Special Features are broken into technical buckets.  Visuals tells the tale of special effects, including ingenious ideas to overcome Harvard University's hostility.  Post is all about editing with an emphasis on sound.  Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score gets three separate pieces and they're all fascinating.  By this time, the old chestnut about what a collaborative art filmmaking has been truly emphasized.

Commentary with Sorkin and cast isn't just a retread of what we've already heard, although unlike many commentaries, don't expect to be able to follow the film while you're listening.  Eisenberg shares his neuroses and frustrations.  Sorkin points out the scene that would have merited the film an R rating and we share his disappointment with the weakness of the change compared to his original intent.  A second commentary features Fincher.

This is just a terrific DVD package, one that really does the film justice.  And that's saying something.
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