The Social Network (12A, 121 mins)
Director: David Fincher
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
A year or two ago there came a flurry of announcements about upcoming movies based on the most unlikely of properties, chief among them board games like Monopoly and Battleship (which is currently in production by the way).
One such curious idea was Facebook: The Movie, and the question on everyone’s lips was how on earth a convincing film could be made based on a website. But that’s pretty much what has transpired in the shape of The Social Network, which details how Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg created The Facebook in 2003, becoming the world’s youngest billionaire in the process.
What keeps it compelling is a clever structure that intercuts the story of the website’s creation with not one but two legal hearings that take place a couple of years later. In one, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is being sued by fellow students who claim that what eventually became Facebook was their idea and they had hired him to work on it. In the other, Mark’s best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who financed the site in its infancy but later had his percentage share vastly reduced, is suing him for $600m.
This comes about after Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, is drafted in to help with the site’s expansion, adding conflict as Mark and Eduardo’s ideas begin to diverge and their relationship is tested.
It’s this deeper look into friendship and loyalty that gives the movie a human angle not immediately apparent in what essentially is a story that boils down to not much more than a bunch of supremely arrogant and irritating rich people redistributing hundreds of millions of dollars between themselves.
But it grips relentlessly, thanks to a trio of first rate performances and lightning fast, scintillating dialogue exchanges in a screenplay from the creator of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, that’s as revealing of character as it is bitterly funny.
Being a David Fincher movie it was always going to be visually striking, and it may be the best looking college film ever, bathed in a murky, vaguely menacing half-light. This is a director at or near the top of his game, and he propels the film through exquisite use of editing and music, not getting bogged down in ponderous detail like he did in his last two movies, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Zodiac.
If there’s a nit to be picked it’s that while many individual scenes are electrifying, the whole doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. And we never quite get to the bottom of what is driving Zuckerbeg – he’s a genius, always the smartest guy in the room, but no effort is made to paint him as anything other than deeply unlikeable, something pulled off remarkably well by Eisenberg. The final irony of this superb drama is that, just maybe, all he really wanted was to be liked.