Review: The Social Network

In light of the Academy Awards on Monday, I think I’ll take this opportunity to post a review for one of the films that I believe was most deserving of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, but failed to do so.

The Social Network is not a film about the Internet phenomenon Facebook. The mocking nickname “Facebook movie” has been attached to the production ever since the project was announced, but the film contains far more relevant and thematic material than the trailers or advertising let on. Granted, the website’s genesis is chronicled within two densely structured hours, but the film is more concerned about the themes and ideas surrounding the website’s controversial beginnings. Behind the seemingly mundane conflict of the people who fought legal battles over the control of a website is an endlessly intriguing examination of not only the ages old themes of jealousy, betrayal and revenge, but also of the ruthlessness of the successful entrepreneur in 21st century America.

No ordinary minds could have devised a film that jumps over a span of years in order to present its plot effectively. Mark Zuckerberg, the well-known creator of Facebook, is under assault by two lawsuits: the first, by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, two twins from Harvard who claimed that the social networking site was their idea; the second, by Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s former best friend who helped him create the website, but ended up losing clout in governing its business structure as it expanded. To get bogged down in legal technicalities would be a bore, so screenwriter Aaron Sorkin takes the Rashomon route and plays with scenes that take place between both lawsuits as well as showing the start of Facebook at Harvard in 2003. Sorkin allows all the characters to provide their point of view, and what is most interesting is that there is not a genuine right or wrong stance that the film sides with. Every man wants something for himself; a clever parallel to how social networking has inadvertently promoted narcissism amongst those who engage with it.

One of the most impressive elements of The Social Network is the near-perfectly cast ensemble, providing a fresh snap, crackle, and pop to Sorkin’s words. To think that Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg is the same riff that he’s been playing for his whole career would be a mistake. Beneath his distant surface is something akin to a bubbling acid, ready to eat away at anything that gets too close. Though Eisenberg works within a very narrow range of vocal inflection, he delivers every single line with unmistakable subtext. It’s deadly subtlety at its very best, and makes him the standout of the film. All the other performances here are top notch as well, especially Andrew Garfield as Eduardo, providing the emotional core of the story as his best friend grows more distant. Justin Timberlake is also surprisingly convincing and sly as Sean Parker, the founder of Napster who uses his business expertise to influence Mark.

Despite all the important contributions made in the screenwriting and talent departments, what really distinguishes The Social Network is its implementation of pure cinema to tell its story. The film is immediately marked with director David Fincher’s signature style with immaculately calculated mis-en-scene and camera movement. Oftentimes, the frame of any given shot is encroached with darkness and sickly greens and yellows, especially on Harvard nights. Visually, it would make an excellent companion piece to another film by Fincher, Fight Club. The Social Network is also an example of editing on a high order. Fincher’s team sweeps the audience up in the excitement of Facebook’s origins, as well as the legal issues that arise over the course of the film. The plot moves relentlessly forward as many scenes taking place over years of time are edited in parallel, yet the pacing never feels rushed. The editing complements the writing to great effect, and Fincher shows that he knows the importance of the juxtaposition of images in order to convey emotion. Finally, the menacingly subtle score by Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross rounds out the film and supports Eisenberg’s fearless performance.

The Social Network has been hailed in some corners as a film for our generation, and although some may connect with that, I do not believe that is the intention. Instead, I believe that the film is piercing look into the eye of the storm that is American business in the 21st century. It follows the same tenants as other films with similar subject matter that preceded it, just as some aspects of American business will remain constant over decades, but the film presents itself in a contemporary environment. In some ways, Mark Zuckerberg intriguingly parallels Charles Foster Kane. This is not to compare The Social Network to Citizen Kane, for the two films are worlds apart in terms of tone, content and execution. However, the characters share a common path: Both men make serious sacrifices in order to succeed in America, and in the process, lose a part of themselves.


~ by romancinema on March 2, 2011.

One Response to “Review: The Social Network”

  1. Hi, this is a comment.
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