Movie Review: The Social Network

Much, much better than a film about Facebook has any right to be

By rights, The Social Network – a film about the founding of the social networking sensation Facebook, based on Ben Mezrich’s fascinating but extraordinarily dry non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires – should have been awful.

Oh sure, it’s testament to writer Aaron Sorkin’s zing with words that his brilliant White House drama The West Wing only dipped in quality four seasons in when he went off to get treated for an addiction to crack (hey, we’ve all been there). Director David Fincher has only really ever made one bad movie too, 2008’s yawnsome The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Throw into the mix Jesse Eisenberg – the thinking mans Michael Cera – Andrew Garfield – the new Spiderman no less – and a smart, innovative soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor, and that’s quality staffing by anyone’s standards. Still, even after all that, it is a film about Facebook, a fixture of all our lives so mundane and so coldly efficient, it’s like making a film about ASDA.

Yet what The Social Network is, is brilliant.

Much of this lies in the fact that it’s not really about Facebook at all, but about the drama behind the venture – how the dynamics of friendship are fractured when big money enters the picture. The story hangs around the journey of Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg – who’s astonishing/thrillingly dislikable by the way), a Harvard student who realizes his proto-Facebook ‘Facemash’, designed for students of his faculty, might also have appeal to the wider world.

Mark’s best friend is programmer Eduardo Saverin (Gardield) who mucks in with the initial capital for the launch, while somewhere in the midst of all this Napster co-founder Sean Parker turns up (a finally-coming-of-age turn by Justin Timberlake) waving a tonne more money around. Then and at the end of all that is a court battle, portrayed with crisp, characteristically superb cinematography by Fincher, that’s as bloody and vicious as anything you might have seen in, say, 300.

Sadly, unlike 300, there are no dwarves in it. This is a shame. But what it does posses is a snappy, dramatic, and yes, exciting character study of what matters to people most when posed with the forked paths of money or friendship.

If I’ve got a criticism of the movie, it’s in the timing of its creation, not in its content. Sure, it’s certainly zeitgeist-y – Facebook has 500 million active users, it’s new media’s success story of its day – but like almost any film that references real technologies, I can’t help feeling that in a years time The Social Network will most likely look dated, at best a snapshot of a former era – a little bit like Sandra Bullock’s proto-internet drama The Net did when it was on Channel 4 the other day (but then I sort of felt it looked a bit like that when I first saw it in 1996, smug faced winky emoticons and all).

Similarly, founded as recently as 2004, in human years, Facebook would only just be entering infant’s school – the website has a story to come that’s likely much more dynamic as the one that’s being told here. But then The Social Network’s charm isn’t in its timeless worth (after all, Battleship Potemkin looks dated) but in taking a dull subject and infusing it with heart.

This it does with superb performances (I’ve already singled out Eisenberg, but Rooney Mara as Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend puts in a star turn too), a script from Sorkin that’s as smart and well researched as ever, and with dealing with the concerns of humans rather than computers – shirts, ties and wire spectacles aside, this story of betrayal, greed and moral conflict has themes that are timeless even if the subject matter isn’t.

This weekend The Social Network has sent you a friend request. Please accept it.

James McMahon