film review: The Social Network

The most talked-about film of the season turns out to be worthy of all that chatter, whether it be online or in person. The Social Network is a completely absorbing, high-octane drama about the invention of Facebook, as told from several points of view—and it’s that Rashomon-like approach that makes it especially intriguing.

Even diehard auteurists seem to recognize that it’s foolish to refer to this as “a David Fincher film” when the screenplay, by Aaron Sorkin, is so dominant. Let’s call this a collaboration of top-tier talents, as that’s what it is: fans of Sorkin’s TV shows (The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) should know to expect a—

—talkfest, but when the talk is this intense, and issues of greed, loyalty, deceit, and betrayal come into play, it’s hardly boring. Fincher captures the immediacy of the drama in every scene; there is no “down time” here.

Jesse Eisenberg has proved himself in film after film, but the role of Mark Zuckerberg may finally make him a household name: he absolutely nails it, bringing to life a socially awkward computer genius whose mouth works almost as fast as his brain…so fast that he doesn’t have time to weigh some of the big questions that crop up on the road to success.

His costars are equally credible, including Andrew Garfield (who’s also so good in Never Let Me Go) as Zuckerberg’s pal and first partner, Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake, as the Napster genius who puts stars in his eyes, Rooney Mara (the future Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as the girl who dumps him, Rashida Jones, as a sympathetic lawyer, and Armie Hammer, as the twins (yes, he plays both roles, in a neat bit of Fincher sleight-of-hand) who wind up suing him, along with Saverin.

The flashback, flash-forward structure of the script works amazingly well, as Zuckerberg’s legal adversaries provide depositions and review their versions of how Facebook came to be.

But the movie opens on a straightforward note, seeming to indicate that it is presenting “the truth,” and this is where The Social Network invites debate over what constitutes dramatic license. If you haven’t read Mark Harris’ brilliant article in New York magazine about Sorkin and this project, it’s a must,, while Jose Antonio Vargas’ profile of Mark Zuckerberg offers a contrasting, personal view of the precocious billionaire:

Whatever the real story may be, it’s important to remember that “it’s only a movie.” While many people will be content to accept The Social Network as an origin story, and it certainly plays that way, we may never know how factual it is. The filmmakers would probably argue that it doesn’t matter; maybe they’re right. They’ve certainly made a solid piece of entertainment, raising questions about ambition and success that aren’t limited to the story of Facebook.

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May 2024