October 3, 2010

Review: Making Friends and Telling Lies – 'The Social Network'

"The internet's not written in pencil. [...] It's written in ink."

The Social Network is a very compelling drama of the finest variety. Master filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) brings his rich visual storytelling and combines it with Aaron Sorkin's (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War) incredible rapid-fire dialogue and wit to bring some fascinating societal context to the birth of social media culture to life on the screen. Fincher and Sorkin recreate the storytelling style of Facebook status updates and posts cinematically without ever having to go deeper into the more borings parts of social technology.

The themes of The Social Network are universal: friendship, loyalty, class, jealousy, and betrayal. Sorkin's fast-paced dialogue and humour bleed through great performances. Framed around two legal depositions, the film has a strange pace and narrative, acting as a courtroom drama. Events are weaved throughout a seemingly random timeline. It should be dizzying and confusing, but it flows and makes the story about coding and legal drama fascinating.

The cast is superb. Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) brings so much humanity, nuance, and character to the role of the much-maligned Mark Zuckerberg. Some have described his performance as a hit job on Zuckerberg but Eisenberg, in fact, fleshes out the character and gives him so much humanity.

Zuckerberg is essentially remembered for every bad thing he has ever done. However, he was clearly a visionary who singularly envisioned how he thought social media should work. He shunned others to implement his own ideas and his success is apparent. Ultimately, we see the value in Zuckerberg's questionable work ethic despite his duplicity, but it is hard to argue with the results for all parties involved.

Throughout the film, Zuckerberg becomes increasingly obsessed with recreating the college experience online. However, Mark all but shuns that life and its superficialities in real life. He even quits Harvard to work on that goal. Zuckerberg regularly turns away very lucrative financial opportunities in order to do what is "cool", despite alienating everyone around him including his best friends. He does make friends but makes worse enemies in his drive forward. Eisenberg gives a great, obsessive portrayal of a deeply flawed genius.

Armie Hammer absolutely steals the film playing both Cameron and Tyler, the Winklevoss twins, seamlessly and slickly through special effects and stellar acting. He gives both twins distinct personalities and humour that shines in every scene he/they are in. This is a star turn for Hammer who builds two great characters cut from old money cloth and traditional gentlemanly ethics.

Justin Timberlake does a fine turn as a real-life rock star and the devil embodied in Napster co-founder, Sean Parker. His nemesis, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin is played well by future Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield. His role is a little thankless as he sort of plays the straight man and cipher for the audience. Saverin is along for the ride as the voice of reason. In one scene, Saverin memorably admits despite being Facebook's co-founder, he is clueless on how to change his own "relationship status".

The film's music and score add so much texture to the story, relying on an ominous tone. Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross add to the weird, creepy undertones to the dramatic events and the legal drama within the film.

The film reminded me a lot of Fincher's serial killer films, Zodiac and Seven, except instead of murder, we have social media and it works in spades. This is not a movie about social media but about real life. For a truer exploration of online networking, check out the documentary, Catfish. The Social Network is a cinematic treasure of classic stories of genius and betrayal told through multiple points of view and dramatic recreations.

The Social Network at its core is the exploration of human relationships and how they change through ambition, genius, and success told in the context of a changing social landscape that is moving digitally to the online world. And its told incredibly well with visual flair and top-notch dialogue, exploring the difference between motivation and obsession.

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