Social Network

Rating:

Social Network Not Oscar Material

Main Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake
Director: David Fincher

How do you tell a story most of your audience already knows?  Complicate the task by making the story about overly litigious Rich-with-a-Capital-R people and their biggest lawsuit ever surrounding facts about a website with nearly 600 million members.

Now make the story about intellectual property law and replace a linear narrative with flashbacks.  Audiences are reminded this story is about twenty-somethings and billions of dollars with Mark Zuckerberg’s irreverent and cruel blogging reminding us of a less endearing Doogie Howser.  Does The Social Network have enough magic to make any character sympathetic or at least round one of them out through the course of the film?

A Different Kind of Black Swan

Business stories don’t often make great movies.  The Social Network is very good, but not great.  Despite critical acclaim surrounding the creative trio of David Fincher directing an Aaron Sorkin screenplay from a Ben Mezrich story, the plot often falls flat and the actors don’t create enough energy to rally an audience.    These lacking elements may not belong solely to the creative team because finding a great business movie is like finding the proverbial dark swan.

Wannabe tycoons adored Barbarians at the Gate, an interesting story with too much about the business at its core.  Other films are released with too little about business or with business only used for setting and context.  Intellectual property movies (Greg Kinnear’s A Flash of  Genius leaps to mind) are even harder stories to tell because of the subject’s complexity.  The Social Network escapes the excesses and lapses of its predecessors, but leans heavily on Facebook’s real-world success.   Similar films with a different subject would likely fare far differently.

Sociologists will argue for years about what made Facebook the popular site.   Contrasting Google as the useful site and Facebook as the friendly site isn’t enough. Something caused Facebook, not even the first or second to its space, to make Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire since Alexander the Great.  That something was surrounded by allegations that Zuckerberg didn’t develop the concept by himself and forced out one of his business partners.  Along the way screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took acknowledged multiple liberties for dramatic effect.

Dark Network

Director David Fincher does gritty dark as well as anyone.  Peers like Tim Burton do supernatural, quirky dark while John Singleton makes as gritty a street film as anyone.  But Fincher could shoot a playground with toddlers and bring out darkness.  That’s a gift the director of Fight Club and Panic Room brings to the screen much like a young Stephen King wrote taut 250 page thrillers until editors stopped editing him.  What fans called “the Facebook movie” is bleak and a little sad.  Fincher gives star Jesse Eisenberg no room to exult and deftly neutralizes pretty Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield, burying each under the weight of Zuckerberg’s angst.

The writers, Sorkin for the screen and Mezrich’s book, can also be dark.   Sorkin in particular can take a film like A Few Good Men or Charlie Wilson’s War and load every major character with a heaping helping of neuroses and issues.  Using a deposition framework for the legal proceeding instead of trials or hearings is genius, and audiences who don’t like legal thrillers won’t have to face The Social Network as though it were a Grisham adaptation.

Mix these three with Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street production company (the agency that has two hits–both written by Ben Mezrich) and the quirky, darkness envelops the entire film.

Is Social Really A Best Picture Nominee?

With  its crisp dialogue, smart settings and top-notch editing, The Social Network is a very well done film.  People who enjoy movies will enjoy this film.  People who enjoy Facebook may not.  The casting is solid although on a planet of 6 billion people, Fincher somehow decided that only Armie Hammer could play both Winklevoss twins.  The pacing is at Fincher speed, not the breakneck pace with which Sorkin and Mezrich write.  Fincher remains a brilliant mood director, allowing his sets and cast to languish alone, exposed to the audience.  So while considered a popular release (albeit it one that failed to reach the coveted $100 million box office revenue mark), The Social Network is a great movie for film students to study.

The cast will do great things.   Garfield is already signed as Peter Parker in the next Spider-Man reboot while that Timberlake fella supposedly sings pretty well too.

The Social Network, a director’s movie at its core, is a pretty good, probably not a great movie and certainly not a Best Picture in this or any year.

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