Many have noted that The Social Network, like the book upon which it’s based—Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires”—takes broad dramatic license with its true-life subject matter. Whether this film is an authentic biopic, however, or the biggest work of alternate history since Inglourious Basterds, neither changes the fact that it’s a brilliant film. Regardless of their balance between fact and fabrication, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, working from timeless storytelling themes, reveal a number of basic, universal truths about human nature.
The Social Network is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg, then an undergraduate at Harvard University, created Facebook, a 500-million-user, worldwide internet behemoth that has become one of the most pervasive cultural phenomena in history. Fincher and Sorkin add healthy doses of sex and drugs and also make things far more dramatic than they were in real life.
More importantly, perhaps, they also crystallize the lines between betrayer and betrayed, making Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) more of a victim than he probably was. Harvard students and twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) and their partner Dviya Narendra (Max Minghella), like Saverin, also sued Zuckerberg.
They claimed the 19-year-old computer prodigy, in creating Facebook, stole their idea for a website called HarvardConnect. The film treats the Winklevosses and Narendra more neutrally than Saverin. Unlike Saverin, neither of the three is particularly likeable and whether Zuckerberg actually stole their idea is treated more ambivalently.
Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg is riveting. Whether this character is true to the real Zuckerberg or not—many claim it’s not—Eisenberg creates a real, complex person who’s by turns brilliant, intractable, arrogant, obsessive, driven and pitiable. This is a character who, rendered with a bit more humor, might fit well on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.” He’s analytical and socially inept to the point of borderline autism, with a brilliant mind that works so quickly and in so many different directions that he often doesn’t realize he’s being insulting or inappropriate.
Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker—Facebook’s first president—deserves a best-supporting-actor nomination. As with Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg, just about everyone, at some point, has known someone similar to this character. He’s the slimy used car salesman; the slick-talking carney who’d steal your life savings playing the ring-toss game. In fact, if the film has a true villain, it’s Parker, not Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg hardly comes off looking angelic, but neither is he the devil, in my opinion, some have claimed.
Eisenberg and Timberlake aren’t alone either; they’re merely the standouts among a cast that’s amazing from top to bottom. Mara Rooney, playing a coed who breaks Zuckerberg’s heart, is especially compelling in a small supporting role; her performance makes believable the idea that Facebook’s inception might ultimately boil down to Zuckerberg’s broken heart.
For my money, The Social Network is now the leading Oscar contender in multiple categories. With its dark tone, unexpected dramatic tension, stellar performances, impeccable script and enduring themes of friendship, betrayal and ingenuity, The Social Network turns a story about nerdy computer coders into the best film I’ve seen in 2010. Along with The Town, this is one of 2010’s true must-sees.
Director David Fincher's dark storytelling proclivities and breathless pacing, along with Sorkin's script, make the material unexpectedly compelling. Outstanding performances from top to bottom fill the film and all in all, this is a true masterpiece.