It’s difficult to establish a better pedigree than The Social Network. Sure, most of this pedigree from my perspective is bias, but the amount of talent behind this film is undeniable. David Fincher is a director that has stumbled exactly twice (Alien 3, which wasn’t his fault, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which certainly wasn’t his fault), and beyond those stumbles has succeeded in committing solid gold to the screen. Aaron Sorkin has been the showrunner and main writer on one of the most respected shows of the past fifteen years (The West Wing) and the best show ever (Sports Night). Even Trent Reznor as half of the score composing duo has a pedigree for me, as while my ship sailed on Nine Inch Nails a long time ago (With Teeth era killed it for me), I still consider Trent’s ability to create instrumental mood music to be top notch, even if he can’t write good lyrics or sing anymore. Three major components, three top tier pieces of talent. A good start, to say the least.
Here’s the funny thing about The Social Network. I couldn’t care about what it’s actually about in the least. Yes, I use Facebook on a semi daily basis, and yes, it’s cool to see movies set on the college campuses of the greater Boston area, but I can say without hesitation that if Sorkin and Fincher were not involved in this film, I almost certainly wouldn’t have seen it. Two people change my level of excitement to such a point that I’m currently grooving on less than four hours of sleep after having gone to a midnight screening of the film last night (well, this morning). I never do that anymore. I have a job, and a pretty important position at that job. I can’t go gallivanting off to see first screenings and shooting my sleeping schedule to hell. Didn’t do that for Inception, or The Dark Knight, or Watchmen, or Iron Man. But I did that for The Social Network. That has to count for something. And oddly enough, when you sit down and watch it, the story itself is quite engrossing. It’s this bizarre little mix of corporate intrigue and courtroom drama all centered around a smart-ass kid who couldn’t care less.
What we have here is a film that blithely runs circles around anything else that’s been released in theaters this year. I’m going to say that most, if not all, of this is because of Sorkin, who has produced this marvel of a screenplay that moves at approximately the speed of light; dialogue flies out of Jesse Eisenberg’s mouth with extreme alacrity, wit, and pomposity at all times there is a camera on him. His Zuckerberg is a man who is operating fifteen steps beyond anyone even remotely close to him, which usually leads to a bored expression followed by exasperated outbursts when people don’t get to the point. Most of the world is not as smart as the Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in this film. And he has no patience for their pedantry, nor does he consider the social implications of his own choice of words when interacting with friends, enemies, or anyone really. All of this brilliance comes from the script. This is unequivocally Sorkin’s movie; David Fincher is a man who built his career on his visual flair, and this is an extraordinarily straightforward visual film for him. He and the actors must have gone through hell to get the script to come out of their mouths correctly (I’ve heard that the exhilarating opening scene took nearly 100 takes to get right), but it was entirely worth the trouble. The script sings throughout, and makes you want to come back for more. This is the type of script the Best Adapted Screenplay (loosely based on The Accidental Billionaires) Oscar is designed to champion.
Beyond the wonderfully antagonistic portrayal by Eisenberg (you’re often struck with the desire to just smack him around to make him care about the world around him or the things he’s going through), I would also like to quickly spotlight Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield. Timberlake seems like the unlikeliest of stars these days considering his spurious origins as a Mouseketeer and boy band leader, but I think now it’s impossible to deny the man’s talent and charisma. His Sean Parker is the perfect foill to Garfield’s character, creating the first legitimate sense of tension in the chronological storyline (it’s intercut as flashbacks with scenes from two ongoing depositions) as he can somehow find a way to elicit emotion out of Eisenberg’s detached and distant hero. Garfield, who more and more seems to justify his being cast as Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot, puts in another strong performance as the friend with a heart of gold and refuses to put on airs for anyone that seems to be messing with his business or his friendship. Garfield is the tragedy of the story, as he is set up for a fall from the early deposition scenes, and much of the rest of the story is spent careening toward the breaking point as dramatic irony builds upon itself at a fevered pace. Every actor here does a fine job, and I should also point out the wonderful work of Armie Hammer (as well as body double Josh Pence) playing two Teutonic twins who believe Facebook was stolen from them by Zuckerberg. Really, everyone does well, but the star elevating roles come from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake.
At the base of it all, you will see this movie because Aaron Sorkin demands it. This is his best script work since Sports Night, and he has reaffirmed himself as the best wordsmith out there. This film puts him ahead of Mamet in my eyes, cementing him at the top of the pile. I was already all in for anything with his name attached, and that will not be changing any time soon. Fincher’s actual directorial work has slackened a bit since the Fight Club days, but despite the straightforward directorial style of films like Zodiac and The Social Network, he’s still managing to outlive his reputation as a visual specialist and music video bred guy into a solid as a rock film director that will capably shoot anything that he is given, and get the best possible performances from his actors. When he’s saddled with a bad script, it won’t work. When he’s given one of the better scripts we’ve seen in a decade, he can make magic. And that’s what happened here. We’ve been quietly blessed with some very good movies over the past few months, despite the prevailing opinion that the summer movie season was a bit of a bust. I thought it would be difficult for something to come along that would outshine the combined might of Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Inception, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. But that’s exactly what The Social Network has done. This film demands to be seen. It deserves your attention and praise. It is nearly flawless, and by far the best $12 you can spend at a theater this year.