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Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Social Network

Title: The Social Network

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: February 20th, 2011

MPAA Rating: PG-13

As author Charles Sykes once observed, it pays to be nice to nerds. There's a good chance you might wind up working for one. If that popular quote could be rewritten today, it might also include a warning that nerds could figuratively stab you in the back.

In this adaptation of Ben Mezrich's fact-based book titled The Accidental Billionaires, Jesse Eisenberg portrays computer nerd turned CEO Mark Zuckerberg; the man credited with creating the social network that nearly everyone and their mother uses: Facebook. But who is the real mastermind behind the phenomenon?

The film follows Zuckerberg's rise to fortune starting with his ambitious yet socially unstable beginnings at Harvard University. After breaking up his with girlfriend in the film's opening scene, a bitterness fueled Zuckerberg spends an entire night hacking into university databases to compile images of female students for a web project titled FaceMash where users rate and compare the girls based on physical attractiveness. The site sparks outrage from the university's female population and the school board who sentence Zuckerberg to academic probation. It slams his dating door shut but opens a different door at the same time. Twin brothers Cameron (Armie Hammer) and Tyler Winklevoss (Josh Pence) approach Zuckerberg about a visioned project titled Harvard Connection; a new revolutionary information sharing website made exclusively for Harvard's students. They were impressed with his fast programming skills and believe he could bring the right tools to get the project launched. Zuckerberg agrees to help but stalls on his contributions while developing something of his own.

Using the Winklevoss' idea as a blueprint, Zuckerberg recruits friend and colleague Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) for his own social network opus titled TheFaceBook. The pair advance the site far enough to connect to other universities and attract the attention of investors. While Zuckerberg and Saverin decide where to take their company next, the Winklevoss twins make plans to sue them for stealing and profiting from their ideas. This is only the beginning of an ironic saga where the people responsible for connecting friends all around the world would prove to have difficulty keeping their own.

It's clear early on that the folks responsible for assembling this account did not have many nice things to say about Mark Zuckerberg. Since the man in question declined to participate with both the film studio and Ben Mezrich, the project was left solely in the hands of those that resented him or at least had reason to. If the real facts are only halfway true, no one should blame them. Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg is formidably cold. There's an etched scowl on his face that only occasionally disappears to be replaced with a subtle evil smile.  And just to eliminate any potential doubt over taking sides, Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend calls him a name that I shall not repeat here because of the blog's intended PG rating.

One of my initial worries upon viewing the film was the possibility of struggling with a limited knowledge of how Facebook actually works since I have never used the site for myself before. *Tosses aside the rock he has been living under.* But the film is less about Facebook itself and more about the theme of money being the root of all evil. As the tagline says, you don't get to five hundred million friends without making a few enemies. Replace the word "friends" with "dollars" and that should give you an idea about what's in store. I expect many cynics to dismiss the story as nothing more than an anti-capitalist propaganda piece disguised as topical media. That's an unfair declaration. It's topical for sure, but that makes it all the more effective into drawing its audience into a lesson in friendship and betrayal. Because of one person's greed for that little something extra, the ones that helped in getting that person there lose out on a fortune. Nothing political at all about that message.

To present this story, writer Aaron Sorkin mixes dramatizations of legal court proceedings with flashbacks based on testimonies. This type of narrative invites a messy result. But Sorkin handles it with slick craftsmanship while keeping things in chronological order at the same time. Oddly enough though, it's when the hip soap opera shtick goes overboard where I begin to get disenchanted from the experience. Every character has the ability to talk at very fast speeds. A speaker often receives replies before he is even finishing his thought. Dialog sentences constantly overlap each other. I realize these are intelligent well-spoken college kids but they are not supposed to be mind readers too. 

A lot of the drama is underscored with music composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The term "music" is used loosely here. All that's left in my memory is obnoxious synth that accompanies scenes designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. It works too well.

As memorable as Jesse Eisenberg's performance was, I wanted to see more variety in the presentation. The permanent frown made me wonder if this Zuckerberg guy ever had any personality. And if so, how did he manage to win girlfriends with a face like that? The trophy for strongest performance belongs to Justin Timberlake. (Ten years ago, I would never have expected myself to ever write that.) His supporting role as Napster co-founder Sean Parker easily beats all contenders in the charisma category. And he even manages to trump Eisenberg in appearing to be the most dangerous of entrepreneurs.

The Facebook empire is showing no signs of slowing down its expansion on world influence. I hope the folks involved in this "behind the scenes" profile experience the same fortune. Even if some character traits are exaggerated, the traits that lead to the drive for stronger power are spot on. 

Rating: 7

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