Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Review: The Social Network (Blu-Ray)

2010. Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara and Andrew Garfield.

For better or worse, the social networking mammoth Facebook has left an indelible mark on our popular culture, boasting 500 million users spanning the entire globe and a slogan in common use in our current vocabulary - "Facebooking". While other sites like Myspace and Friendster paved the trail for social networking, Facebook truly brought it to the masses and David Fincher's masterpiece "The Social Network" explores the story behind the web phenomenon and it's enigmatic creator, Mark Zukerberg. What could have been a shameless cash-grab is instead one of the best movies of 2010 and a worthy contender for a few Academy Awards.

"The Social Network" is not a sensationalistic story about Facebook so much as it is a story about the power struggle that characterizes it's creation. At the center of the story is Mark Zukerberg, played by the incredibly talented Jesse Eisenberg, who is portrayed as equal parts a computer programming genius and a sarcastic, self-important jerk. Given the popularity of Facebook now, it might be easy to forget it's simple origins as a pet project for a dejected Harvard student and a few of his friends. Zukerberg, after being dumped by his girlfriend, decides to take his frustrations out on her by creating an internet site dedicated to the objectification of girls at Harvard, and this ideal blossoms into a social networking site specifically for people to post their personal profile online. Admittedly, this has been done before by the likes of Myspace and Friendster, but the new site (simply called Harvard Connect in the beginning) offers more features and a better online profile. The idea catches on and soon spreads to other colleges and universities, and eventually into what we know as Facebook today.

"The Social Network" is told through flashbacks that are bound together be a series of lawsuits that Zukerberg faced when Facebook went global. The movie takes some creative liberties with how people reacted to certain events, but the movie follows the events fairly accurately. Zukerberg developed the ides for Facebook with the help of a few friends, some who provided their expertise and time and others their money. The most dubious contributor is Scott Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, who gained fame by founding Napster but is portrayed here as a fallen e-commerce giant who is riding the coattails of the next big thing. Zukerberg's former friends are innovators and bitterly dejected business partners in equal measure and we see them with a certain amount of sympathy here. What started as a project between friends exploded into something much bigger and, needless to say, a few people got hurt in the process.

In an era where corporate giants are vilified and lampooned in the press, "The Social Network" takes a surprisingly neutral stance on Zukerberg and the rise of his empire. He is shown here as a shy, nerdy and utterly dedicated person who ultimately wanted to so the right thing but was caught up in his meteoric rise to the top. He is cold, sarcastic and disrespectful to others, but he is not portrayed as a villain so much as a focused entrepreneur. His friends and enemies are portrayed in a similar light, but more as people who were left by the wayside. The acting from all parties, especially Eisenberg as Zukerberg and Timberlake as Parker, is top notch and likely to gain some notice at the annual awards ceremonies. As a director, I have always respected David Fincher for his style and the narrative structure of his movies, and he has outdone himself here. What really deserves notice is the screenwriting, which contains perhaps some of the best dialogue and stylish use of exposition I have seen in a film this year. Additionally, the score by Trent Reznor contributes greatly to the pace and the tone of the film. The story of Facebook is complex and this is a film that does it justice by giving a balanced and even-keeled narrative.

For those purchasing this movie on DVD or Blu-Ray, the additional features given here are well worth checking out. First and foremost, the 90 minute documentary on the making of the movie gives some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage as well as cast and crew interviews. Additional features include featurettes on the score and the visuals of the movie, all of which are interesting on the first viewing but unlikely to warrant a second viewing. The Blu-Ray transfer itself is fantastic and the sound mix really brings out Trent Reznor's score in a powerful way. Drama films usually offer a negligible improvement over regular DVDs, but the difference is noticeable here.

Whether you're a Facebook fan or not is irrelevant when it comes to your enjoyment of this movie since it's more a character-driven drama than a pop-culture cash-in. The top notch production and razor sharp dialogue make "The Social Network" one of the most engaging and compelling movies of 2010 and I wouldn't be surprised to see this snag a few Oscars in the process.

Rating: 9/10

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