james debate
james debate

Saturday 9 October 2010

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin, Ben Mezrich (novel)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 121 minutes

On the surface this film has everything; massive hype, a great writer/director team, and a subject matter that is both timely and pivotal to the chronicle of the current generation. The Social Network promises many things, but does it achieve the vaunted "classic" status to which it aspires?

the social network

The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg, socially inept Harvard boy genius who comes up with Facebook, an idea that changes the world and makes him a very wealthy man. But the script focuses less on the achievement and glamour (though there is a fair bit of that at least in the early stages) and more on the infighting and drama behind the scenes which led to a number of court cases and big money settlements.

I was skeptical when the media first announced the existence of a Facebook movie in the pipeline, even though it was an inevitability as arguably the most revolutionary development of the internet age since Google. However when I heard the names being attached to the project, David Fincher as director and Aaron Sorkin scripting, I knew the end result would be worth watching.

Indeed from the opening scene their influence can be seen, as characters launch into lighting fast and impossibly witty exchanges, the likes of which could only be written by Aaron Sorkin, or possibly David Mamet. Fincher meanwhile produces the gutsiest work of his career to date, perfectly maneuvering around the calisthenics of the fine script. This is a film that is at times hilarious, sexy, fun, but throughout it all an aching sadness underpins the whole endeavour.

The central conceit of this film, it turns out, is the irony that someone who struggles so intensely with social issues could have created the greatest revolution in social living in a generation. The Social Network attempts to reconcile this seeming incongruity by shining a spotlight on the underhanded, scheming, and generally unpleasant behind the scenes goings on which took place.

Needless to say Zuckerberg himself doesn't come off in a positive light, driven by his own insecurities and a desire to fit in. Fincher's goal for this film seems to be to make viewers feel sorry for a multibillionaire genius, rather than envious, and he does this pretty well.

This leads on to my biggest problem with this film, the tight focus on the darker, sadder aspects of these events. Now don't get me wrong, this is a great angle for the story and it's pretty much what Fincher does best. My problem is that this really only works when contrasted with the superficial glamour and spectacle of everything that Zuckerberg achieved, all the fun stuff. While this is addressed in the film, I didn't feel it was done particularly successfully. This film seems to take all the success in an almost blasé fashion, and the sheer scale and revolution of what is unfolding on screen never really hits the audience in a satisfying way.

Ultimately I attribute this to one of two things: too much focus on the sadder aspects of the plot as I mentioned, and a simple lack of understanding among the creators of this film. Sorkin and Fincher are great film makers, but how well do they really feel the significance of Facebook? Both have admitted that they really didn't know anything about it before making this film, and the unfortunate result is that you could replace the names and the word "Facebook" in this film with some other endeavour and not a thing would be lost from the story telling. This often doesn't really feel like a Facebook movie, it feels like a standard "brainy whizkids set out on a journey, but fall out along the way" film with the word Facebook thrown in a few times.

But ultimately that doesn't really matter too much, because the film itself is masterfully done. I've already mentioned the excellence of the writing and direction, but praise must also go to the actors. Until now, Jesse Eisenberg was an actor known to me only as "that kid who looks a bit like Michael Cera and plays similar roles", well no more. Eisenberg plays the role perfectly and shows himself to have far greater acting chops than Cera will ever have. Andrew Garfield is fine as really the only likable character in the film, and does himself no harm as he prepares for the super stardom that will come with his upcoming role as Spiderman.

But the real shock of the film is Justin Timberlake who, shockingly, is not half bad. For two hours I actually forgot who I was watching on screen as he drew me into the world of Sean Parker, the (kinda but not really) creator of Napster. In retrospect it shouldn't really come as a surprise as he's hardly a real musician, 75% of what he did as a pop star was acting.

Really this is just as finely created a film as you will ever see in pretty much every aspect. It's well written, directed and acted and relates to so pivotal a topic for our generation as to make this film noteworthy, not just this year but for years to come. At times it can feel a little formulaic without really appreciating the subject matter, but the overall quality of what is on screen overrides any complaint I could have. This is one of those films that you won't want to end.

Fantastically honed production
Revelatory performances
General quality

Superficial attachment to the subject matter

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