The Social Network (2010)

‘The Social Network’ is an instant classic

By Al Alexander

The Oscar race begins and ends today with the release of “The Social Network,” the stirring, utterly engrossing tale about the ingenuity, ambition and ultimate betrayal behind the founding of Facebook, possibly the most life-altering social phenomenon since the advent of the cell phone.

It’s no less than an instant classic, a textbook example of movie making in which all facets of the medium – writing, directing, acting and cinematography – coalesce into something close to perfection. But it all begins with what’s sure to be Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script, rife with scintillating dialogue and enough intrigue for a dozen courtroom dramas.

And at its core, that’s exactly what the “The Social Network” is, an old Perry Mason whodunit in which civility and morality are put on trial and the viewer serves as the judge and jury. Sork in doesn’t make it easy, either.

He layers on the complexities in presenting three sides of a court battle over ownership of an idea that sparked a billion-dollar product.

Does it belong to the person who invented it? The person who financed it? Or the person who conceptualized it? Sorkin makes such a compelling argument for all three that your loyalties witch about as of ten as Facebook racks up new members. Then Sorkin goes even further, delving into the darker ramifications of a “convenience” that on its surface appears like a be-all, end-all.

Sure, Facebook is great for making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. But the movie subtly asks you to ponder if the benefits are really worth the loss of privacy, the dwindling of face-to-face communications, and what amounts to an open invitation to stalkers and other societal miscreants like bullies and pedophiles.

And that’s just the beginning of a tale that also incorporates issues of class, privilege and basic humanity.

You almost need to see it twice to absorb all its nuances.

What drives it, though, is a remarkable performance by Jesse Eisenbergas Mark Zuckerberg, the socially inept Harvard sophomore with the 10-centsmile and soon-to-be-billion-dollar bank account. It’s an extraordinarily tricky piece of acting because Eisenberg not only portrays Mark’s genius but also finds a way to elicit empathy for a character whose bitterness is trumped only by his narcissism. It’s truly a love-hate relationship shared by more than a few people he steps on while becoming the biggest cyber-entrepreneur since Bill Gates, who, by the way, now owns a slice of Facebook and even pops up in the film via a doppelganger.

Like Gates, Zuckerberg is your quintessential nerd, quiet, shy and, in this case, ruthless. He’s also quite dangerous and more than a little bit cunning, as evidenced in a tone-setting opening scene in which he goads his date, a lower-pedigree coed from B.U.

(Rooney Mara), in to dumping him just so he can play the martyr.

It’s a classic case of self-pity that Mark drunkenly carries back to his dorm room, and, in a matter of a few short hours, converts into the seed that will become Facebook. He calls it Facemash, an obstreperous and highly sexist endeavor in which he and his two roommates hack into the Harvard database, extract photos of every coed on campus and post them on the Netin pairs for users to vote on the hottest.

In just that one pulsating scene, director David Fincher (“Zodiac”) tells you everything that’s admirable and deplorable about Zuckerberg. But he also captures the thrill inherent in the conception of an idea that will literally change the world.

It’s even more exhilarating watching his notion continue to sprout until it grows unwieldy, as the product becomes more valuable than the close friendships that nurtured it. Allies become enemies, and integrity loses all meaning amid a stream of whisky, drugs and promiscuous women.

And before you know it, the makeshift boardroom evolves into a courtroom, where, as George Harrison so eloquently put it, you acquire a terminal case of the “sue me, sue you blues.”

Like he did on “The West Wing,” Sorkin places you right in the middle of the fray, as moral arguments unfurl during a deposition hearing in which Mark is forced to face his accusers.

Among the gathered litigants are his college roommate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who put up the $19,000 to launch Mark’s idea; and the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), the muscular Harvard crew team that devised the plan for a campus-wide, on line social network.

Cleverly, Sorkin and Fincher use the deposition as a platform to launch a series of chronological flashbacks covering Facebook’s first, highly tumultuous year, which began in the fall of 2003 and ended in the arrest of Zuckerberg’s closest adviser, Sean Parker, the Napster co-founder (played flawlessly by an Oscar-worthy Justin Timberlake), who helped catapult Facebook from a campus-only website to an international sensation.

And it’s during those halcyon months that “The Social Network” gradually devolves from a euphoric high to something akin to a Shakespearean tragedy. You’re riveted, too, for two stimulating hours by a story that neither talks down to its audience or goes above its head.

It just keeps everything unsettlingly real in capturing the essence of selfishness and treachery, all under the guise of creating a system geared toward making it easier for college kids to get laid. And sure enough, in the end, just about everybody gets screwed.

Movie review

The Social Network

Rated: PG-13 for language, drug and alcohol use, sexual content

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Rashida Jones

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Runtime: 120 minutes

Grade: A

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