★ ★ ★ ★
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.