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Face value: Witty 'Social Network' a telling portrait of our times
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

Best pals Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), left, and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) engage in legal disputes over the creation of Facebook in David Fincher's "The Social Network."

 

Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), left, and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), create a little thing called Facebook while at Harvard University in David Fincher's drama "The Social Network."

 

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Published: 9/30/2010 12:00 AM

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David Fincher's superbly wrought "The Social Network" robustly chronicles the messy birth of that cultural, economic, political and sexual game-changer called Facebook, and does it with style, wit and invention.

The humor snaps.

The dialogue crackles.

The characters pop.

From the opening scene a simple exchange between two Harvard University students we can tell we're in the hands of a master storyteller.

We instantly see that hotshot computer intellect Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks fast, but talks even faster, and that he possesses zero skills when it comes to women, specifically his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara).

From this smart and energized introduction, "The Social Network" speed-skates along on Aaron Sorkin's combustible script, fueled by clever wordplay, rapier insults and lightning-quick retorts that don't exist in the non-movie universe.

Yet, Fincher keeps his characters firmly grounded in his surprisingly restrained motion picture that bears little of the flamboyant visual gimmicks of his "Fight Club," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Panic Room."

"The Social Network" defies convention by splitting the role of protagonist between Zuckerberg and his fellow Harvardite Eduardo Saverin (future "Spider-Man" Andrew Garfield), his financially well-endowed friend who agrees to help Zuckerberg launch a site called "The Facebook."

Much of "The Social Network" gets relayed in flashbacks as Zuckerberg and Saverin sit in a law office, glaring at each other and probably wondering just how two best friends wound up here in a bitter custody battle over their new online baby.

It all begins with sex, as many things do.

Spurned by Erica, the frustrated Zuckerberg assassinates her character with an online assault. That gets him in big trouble.

But it also opens the door to a capitalistic enterprise based on a human need: How can a guy know if a girl is available or off-the-market?

Easy. Just get young women to declare their status online. The guesswork and stress disappear for guys.

What begins as a Harvard-based website rapidly expands to other schools, then other countries.

This disturbs the Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron (both played with amusing distinction by Armie Hammer in different hairstyles and demeanors).

The twin Harvard rowing jocks have hired Zuckerberg to launch a social network for them, and they regard his independent creation of Facebook as a theft of their idea.

There will be blood. Legally speaking.

"The Social Network" is a piece of social grand opera that whisks us step by step from how an enterprise born of friendship and trust turns into a maelstrom of suspicion, back-stabbing, finger-pointing, greed and lawsuits.

All that more or less begins the day that Zuckerberg meets Napster innovator Sean Parker (a breakout performance by Justin Timberlake), who drives a wedge between Saverin and Zuckerberg shortly after giving them one positive suggestion: Drop the "the" from The Facebook.

Most of "The Social Network" is based on the real people and facts. When it deviates from truth, it still works as a solid drama.

(Sorkin created the Erica character to give Eisenberg's anti-social genius a dramatic arc and to give the story a bookend beginning and end. Even though it emotionally pays off, it still feels a little too Hollywood.)

"The Social Network" is a marvelous piece of illuminating entertainment accompanied by a symphony of words delivered like slugs from a machine gun.

It's one of those rare, well-crafted motion pictures that's both for its time and about its time.