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The Social Network

How much of Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, which chronicles the founding of Facebook, is factual and how much is fanciful is murky at best. This will probably be debated ad nauseum by tech writers and other pundits for years to come. Whether or not the book makes a compelling – maybe even great – film is much more clear-cut. Simply put, the answer is yes.

In titling his film adaptation The Social Network, director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) highlights the irony of his subject matter. Who would’ve guessed Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) could create a site dedicated to socializing despite his apparent inability to carry on an actual conversation without being condescending, petty or vindictive?

Though it deals with technology in a very modern way, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay feels like a throwback to the early 1940s and writers like Herman Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) and Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday). Conversation feels one step away from being a contact sport as actors interrupt each other and talk over each other constantly, using rapid-fire delivery for every biting sentence. To put it in perspective: conventional wisdom dictates that a page of screenplay equals roughly a minute of screen time. In the case of The Social Network, a 166-page screenplay was crammed into just 120 minutes.

Credit should also go to Fincher, who was contractually obligated to bring the film in under two hours. A lesser director might’ve been tempted to severely shorten the opening break-up scene, which occupies nine pages of the script. Instead, Fincher shoehorned the scene into four minutes, nicely developing the Zuckerberg character and setting the tone for the rest of the film.

While Fincher has a reputation for being somewhat of a “showy” director, he keeps this tendency in check for most of the film, allowing the actors to do most of the work.

Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg is simple, but effective. He rarely displays emotions, but when he does they seem mostly borne out of frustration and impatience. Like many geniuses, his character seems to always be asking himself, Why don’t these people understand what I’m saying to them? Can’t everyone just do things my way?

Eisenberg’s performance is complimented by strong acting elsewhere in the cast. With the aid of a double and some digital trickery, Armie Hammer plays twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea to create Facebook.

The twins are imposing specimens – world-class rowers who tower over Zuckerberg. Yet their athletic prowess belies their gentle natures. They feel taking their grievance to the university paper or to a lawyer would be ungentlemanly. So rather than simply suing Zuckerberg from the get-go, they delay in taking action, and instead seek the aid of the university president. To Hammer’s credit, he makes the contrast between the twins’ physicality and their temperament believable.

Andrew Garfield puts in a strong performance as Eduardo Saverin, a friend of Zuckerberg’s who fronts the start-up cash for Facebook. His character is perhaps the most sympathetic in the film, as his naive nature is ruthlessly exploited by those around him.

Justin Timberlake also plays a pivotal role as Napster creator Sean Parker, who winds up as a sort of mentor for Zuckerberg. His dialogue tends to be a little on the cheesy side (i.e. “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”), but Timberlake pulls it off. Whether or not he’s anything like the real Sean Parker is anybody’s guess, but he certainly seems like the sort of larger-than-life character who would nearly bankrupt the music industry.

Rooney Mara plays Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s girlfriend at the start of the film, and though her role is brief, she’s memorable. Along with Rashida Jones, she’s the only female character in the film who leaves much of an impression.

Musically, The Social Network is quite diverse. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed and performed the score for the film, though Sorkin’s non-stop dialogue means it rarely comes to the fore. When it does, its electronic blend of piano and bass make a pleasing addition. Meanwhile, the soundtrack pulls from a wide range of artists, including Dead Kennedys, The White Stripes, and The Beatles.

I’ve written a lot here and could probably write a lot more. The Social Network feels like the kind of movie that will reward multiple viewings, but so far I’ve only managed to see it once. I feel confident in saying even if every else about the movie was terrible, the script would make this film worthwhile. But the cast and crew do better than execute – they elevate.

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