David Finher's film is not just a movie about the creation of Facebook, but a poignant comment on our time.
The Social Network
The Social Network
Director: David Fincher.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Some movies are slow-burners. Some build on solid opening acts. And some simply explode into life from the very first frame. It is the latter scenario, blissfully, that applies to the Facebook parable, The Social Network, a movie that leaps into life in scene one, and doesn't stop racing, twisting, chopping and changing, until the credits roll after a deliciously woozy 121 minutes of pure ache and pleasure. But it doesn't visually boom and aurally bang in the way that bedevils so many of its contemporary Hollywood blockbuster cousins (yes, we mean you, Iron Man 2). Instead, and as is totally appropriate to the story of the tricky creation of the world's premier social networking site, and of the broken friendships and subsequent legal actions that followed, it is a movie of razor-sharp intellectual fireworks mixed with deep human emotions.
Thus, the motor-mouthed Harvard anti-hero Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, never better) sets the pace from scene one, drowning out the studio-fanfare with a rapid-fire meditation on everything from Chinese IQ levels to college fraternities, to the apparently lacklustre future that awaits his patiently attentive girlfriend, the lower-rung Boston University student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). Unimpressed by these condescending musings, Albright rightly dumps him on the spot. Typically, the scene both sets the dizzying tone for the movie to come, and establishes the motivation for Zuckerberg's invention - he rushes back to his dorm and, full of spite, creates a misogynistic campus website called "Facemash" (where women are rated for their looks), which is a crude precursor of his next idea, "The Facebook", which eventually, somewhere in act two, becomes the Facebook site that the world embraces and that inspires two bitter lawsuits which bookend the entire drama.
Of course, none of this is chronological. Instead, from the pen of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), writing at his best amid a whirl of flashbacks and flashforwards, and from the lens of the director David Fincher (Fight Club) - at 48, hitting something of a career high - we get the classic story of a lonely man consumed by his own genius, but one that is told with the greatest formal élan and in the most contemporary of settings (think "Citizen Kane 2.0"). In this, the dramatis personae are all indecently fascinating, and flawlessly played - Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's only friend Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as the overly confident internet entrepreneur Sean Parker, deserve special praise for wearing their roles with such ease.
And yet, the surprising kick with The Social Network is its sheer heart. For this is a movie that cares for its version of Zuckerberg, even as he alienates those closest to him.
It's a film that distrusts social networking itself, and questions the motivations of a man who put distance into friendship in the name of the same. But mostly, it works as a film precisely because it is a monumental movie about our time, and one that asks an age-old question about the price of success.