The Social Network (2010)

★ ★ ★ ★

I've always been skeptical of major box office successes, especially when they're about "true stories." Had The Social Network not been a David Fincher movie--scratch that--had David Fincher not cast Andrew Garfield, I wouldn't have made time to see it. I'm glad I did. Rather than a simple Zuckerberg biopic, Fincher and Sorkin presented the evolution of Facebook within the broader context of technological evolution. This was quite refreshing. Most historical fiction gets bogged down by a focus on the personalities involved, rather than exploring the interconnection of events. Chance exchanges of ideas, and randomness play a greater part in the entrepreneurial process than most people imagine. The great man theory of history rarely bears out in real life.

The Social Network brilliantly demonstrated how the Facebook emerged, evolved, and shaped--and was shaped by--society. The movie was "about" Mark Zuckerberg to an extent, but what really made it interesting is that it demonstrated how the Internet has obscured the boundaries of intellectual property, and how a simple idea can take hold of our collective consciousness. As the technology evolved, so did the language--and vice versa. Facebook went from being an idea tossed around by a bunch of college kids to a verb within weeks. No one really owns the idea any more than they own the verb. Yet, it has transformed into a network of 500 million users. The lawsuits are presented in a non-linear fashion. Arguments and evidence from each are presented out of turn, yet in a manner that shapes the case to the audience. Who said what? Who owns what? What evidence is real, and what is a smear job from a college paper? These things are ephemeral; subservient to the entity that a series of conscious decisions, coincidences, and mistakes have created.

The actual production value was much higher than I'd anticipated. Trent Reznor (who's music I don't actually listen to) put together an amazing score. An eclectic mix of industrial, techno, and metal drove the pace of the film. Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography beautifully transitioned from one scene to the next. The pace ebbed, and flowed, but it always felt consistent. He relied heavily on still shots to slow down the pace at the beginning, and gradually introduced more camera movement to speed things up. Tracking shots through party scenes, panning around a party bus--these are the type of things that created the kinetic atmosphere. At first nothing is moving. Once Facebook is created, nothing stops moving.

This is probably the only decent role Jesse Eisenberg will ever play. I find him intensely annoying, yet he fit this part just perfectly. Even Forrest Whittaker had one good role. More importantly, this was Andrew Garfield's first major mainstream role. He's done mostly arthouse work so far, and is about to become one of this generation's biggest stars. I suppose that will be solidified when he takes on the role of Spiderman. Also in his first major role was Justin Timberlake, who put in an admirable performance.

I've always maintained that it is exceedingly difficult to make a great film with over $50 million dollars. In order to make a production of that scale profitable, it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The genius of this film is that Fincher and Sorkin took an idea that has wide appeal and put just enough arthouse in it to keep demanding viewers interested, while not alienating casual movie goers. This is David Fincher's masterpiece.


Let Me In (2010)

★ ★ ★ ☆

For those of us who've seen Let the Right One In, the American remake had a tough act to follow. I'll spare the suspense: Let Me In was not as good as the original. While it did some things better, it did many things worse. Despite the inconsistency, it is definetly worth the watch. Even if you've seen the original, it still manages to hold your attention. Much of this can be attributed to a number of iconic scenes, but credit is definetly due to the technical crew members for putting together one of the most technically sound movies you'll see this year. If you take a keen interest in cinematography and sound editing, you won't want to miss this. It is a tour de force on both fronts. Some phenomenal supporting roles certainly helped. However, at least one major casting mistake, and uneven dialogue marred the production value. It was good, when it could easily have been great.

The biggest issue with the film was the role of Abby. On a superficial level, Chloe Moretz did not fit the part at all. Abby ought to have been an icy, ephemeral character (as in the original). Instead, she is blonde, has a regular skin tone, and seems altogether normal. She's even less vampire like than a Twilight character. Her action sequences were also oddly clunky. Not all of the roles deficiencies can be blamed on a casting error. Her dialogue was weak--disproportionately to the relatively well written screenplay. I'm not quite sure what Matt Reeves was thinking. I suppose it can be tough to script such a feral character, but either way it was lackluster.

Owen was also a role that left something to be desired when compared to the original. Though he wasn't exactly a missfit in the role, Kodi Smit-McPhee couldn't quite live up to the original. The original role (Oskar) was among the best portrayals of a victim of bullying. The victim of bullying can also be among the most frightening avengers when given the chance. Alienation, and powerlessness can turn the most innocent child into a merciless transgressor. Owen was a reasonable facimile of this, but not on the level of Oskar.

While the lead roles were unsatisfying, a pair of supporting actors put in excellent roles. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas are two of the best character actors around. While their roles didn't require much extension, they brought a level of gravitas to the film that was lacking from the leads.

Matt Reeves deserves credit for having made the film interesting, even for those who've seen the original. Dialogue is obviously not his strong suit, but he was able to play on the expectations of those who've seen the original. He often let the audience hang in the balance, even though they knew what to expect. I suspect the long lead up to the iconic pool scene was devised specifically with those who've seen the original in mind. It's tough to build suspence for people who know what's coming. He also managed to open the film in an interesting way, and introduce some interesting Americanizations. The Ronald Reagan speech leitmotif was interesting, though not quite exploited to full effect.

The real stars of Let Me In were not the actors, or the director. The photography and sound units stole the show. Greig Fraser did a masterful job of matching the medium to the motif. The camera lens had the feel of a window onto the cold winter mise en scene. Long cuts at times made it feel as though the camera were frozen into place. The camera constantly blurred in and out of focus, like a window frosting over, and defrosting. I've yet to see a cinematographer so effectively capture frigidity through the use of lenses. Unbearable heat has been captured many a time, but this was actually quite novel. The sound crew was able to create a stark contrast through periods of quite, and ratcheting music. The Reagan leitmotifs were especially well done, cutting into the silence with prophetic ruminations about good and evil. I can't think of a better usage of sampling in film off the top of my head.

Though imperfect, Let Me In is a must see, especially if you've seen one too many of the lame vampire movies that have been flooding theatres. Part edge of your seat thriller, part social commentary, it is among the most exciting wide releases of the year.