How frequently do you go to a movie and say, "Awww..." when the end credits begin to roll? That happened to me with The Social Network this weekend. It clocks in at just about two hours, but I wouldn't have minded it running longer.
I've enjoyed many of director David Fincher's films over the years, including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac and Panic Room, and he puts his slightly off-kilter style of filmmaking to good use in this fast-moving, funny and compelling story.
For those who don't know (?), it's the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)—creator of Facebook—and the friends and business associates he collaborated with and ultimately burned. After a lighting-fast opening sequence in which his girlfriend breaks up with him at a bar, he goes back to his Harvard dorm room and drunkenly builds a Web site in a single night, using an algorithm created by his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Calling it Facemash, he emails male students and invites them to compare photographs of female students and give them a "hot or not" rating. The university's servers crash and he is nearly expelled, but he draws the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (Armie Hammer), big men on campus who want him to help them develop their social Web site, HarvardConnection.com.
Zuckerberg likes the idea but thinks their model is wrong, so he creates thefacebook.com with Eduardo. The Winkelvosses are furious, sending him a cease-and-decist letter, which he ignores. Eduardo sets up a meeting with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster. It's hate at first sight—Eduardo thinks Parker is a sleazy hustler, and Parker thinks Eduardo is too small-change for the success of the company, so he quickly takes over and drives him out. More backstabbing ensues, Zuckerberg becomes wealthy beyond words and finds himself battling lawsuits initiated by the Winkelvosses and Eduardo.
Eisenberg is ideally cast as anti-hero Zuckerberg. a geek genius whose desire for social acceptance fuels his every move, even as he's alienating those around him. He perfectly conveys Mark's cold and calculating exterior while giving us a glimpse of the lonely little boy inside who's crying out for acceptance. I've enjoyed Eisenberg's work—from The Squid and the Whale to Zombieland—but he really shows his chops here. I see an Oscar nomination coming.
Hammer is hilarious as the lunkheaded "Winkelvi," in an impressive digital stunt that puts his face on two bodies. Timberlake (who I also liked in Alpha Dog) is charismatically sleazy as Parker. Garfield is terrific as Zuckerberg's scorned friend, one of the few characters that you can develop any sympathy for. Another good character is Marilyn Delpy (Rashida Jones), an intern at the law office who seems to be able to see through Mark's frozen exterior.
The score, by Nine Inch Nails collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, propels the story and adds an appropriate feeling of dread. Jeff Cronenweth's impressive cinematography vividly depicts the cold, dark New England winter on the Ivy League campus, contrasting it with the sunniness of Palo Alto. The cloning of the Winkelvoss twins is seamless, and I only had one complaint special-effects-wise: when characters are talking outside in the cold, the digitally-added condensation from their breath is rather obvious. Maybe it was exaggerated to play up the chilliness of the film overall.
Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, based on Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires" is snappy, smart, and frequently amusing. The film moves at a breakneck pace, which is probably a good thing, because if it had a slower rhythm, the essential shallowness of the story (and the characters) would be more extreme. Alternating scenes in lawyers' offices during the litigation with sequences at Harvard and in Palo Alto, it never pauses to take a breath. Some have complained that Fincher's direction is too slick and emotionless, but I think it's perfect for the story of such an isolated individual.
And you certainly don't have to be a computer geek to keep up with the film. Enough factoids are tossed out to keep you abreast of the development of the site, but far more emphasis is placed on the verbal jousting of the various characters, and it's absolutely absorbing. I love the scene in which Eduardo realizes Mark's motivation for screwing him is a long-standing resentment for having gotten into a popular fraternity that Mark was not invited to pledge. And the final scene, which I will not give away, is just a terrific capper.
Hmm...I just went to the film's Facebook page and all it has are repeated posts about sexual positions that can kill you and some guy who keeps saying he's going to see the film on Halloween. Weird.