Over the past few years on this blog I’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that I view Aaron Sorkin as the best writer currently working in film and TV. I’ve given heavy praise to his scripts for The West Wing, The American President and Charlie Wilson’s War and any time a project of his is announced, it instantly becomes one of my most anticipated films. So, in honour of the release of Steve Jobs, I’m devoting the next week on this blog to the works of Aaron Sorkin with reviews of Moneyball, A Few Good Men, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and today’s review: The Social Network. Now this film was released before I became a die-hard Sorkin fan and before I had any knowledge of the book it was based on so when I first heard that there was going to be a film based on Facebook I greeted it with derision. Seeing as how other things I’ve greeted with derision have been The Lego Movie and the TV shows for Fargo and Hannibal, I should really stop with my pre-conceptions as all of those projects have ended up being some of my favourite pieces of media in the past few years and The Social Network is no exception.
The film focuses on the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 and the subsequent battles that ensued over it, mainly with Eduardo Saverin, the original CFO and co-founder and the Winklevoss twins, who hired Mark to work on a website of theirs after another website of Mark’s got a large amount of attention and crashed the servers. Into the mix comes Sean Parker, the creator of Napster who becomes somewhat of a mentor to Mark and the ensuing personal issues that are created. Having the film be structured around the lawsuits Zuckerberg faced in the immediate aftermath of Facebook’s creation helps to lend the film a sense of both authenticity and dramatic license. We get the impression that the events as depicted in the film may not be fully accurate as described in the depositions due to each participant wanting to make themselves look good so that they have a better likelihood of the lawsuit going their way. This structure further allows the audience to view themselves as the outsider, as a member of the legal team (mainly represented by Rashida Jones as Marylin Delpy), and to judge the actions of the film in this style, which gives a sense of detachment which is weirdly appropriate for a film about Facebook, it makes you feel like you know these people whilst having no real connection. I also love how every character has shades of grey letting you know how they fell into their situations. We see that Mark, whilst really intelligent is a complete arse to everyone, especially to women, that Eduardo, whilst friendly and likable is prone to pettiness and is a bit too naive, that Sean Parker is arrogant and paranoid but fragile, hiding his true self from people, that the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra are arrogant and egotistical but sympathetic as they were led on by Mark and he did technically steal their idea. All the characters have moral complexity that makes all of them sympathetic and loathsome in equal measure.
It also does a good job in showing the harmful masculinity behind everything. A lot of the decisions made by the characters are based on their desires and their male egos competing with each other. This is most obviously the case with the Winklevoss twins but it also permeates to the other characters, particularly with the FaceMash scene. Every character who uses FaceMash in that scene is male and through it we see how the university environment is degrading to women, them only being viewed as objects for lust and it’s clear that those people are in the wrong, we’re meant to sympathise with the women who are being degraded and having their privacy invaded and you feel pity for the men who vote on the website because of how pathetic and base their views on women are. In this way, this film does a great job deconstructing the whole environment around the internet, showing how pathetic a lot of it is and how easy it is to insult women and get away with it, which Mark does throughout the film (he sees no punishment for the comments he made about Erica and his punishment for FaceSmash was a slap on the wrist). In this way, the film can be viewed as a condemnation of these sites, making it so much easier to detach yourself from people and from reality in general that Facebook could only be created by a social recluse like Mark.
Everyone else when talking about this film has said it but it bears repeating that Sorkin’s script is incredible. He gives all the characters a lot of weight, the dialogue is excellent, mixing in a lot of humour with a whole bunch of technical jargon that would make it hard to understand in any other hands but with Sorkin he weaves it in so naturally that you feel like you understand it even if you actually don’t. Of course there’s the story behind the film that in order to get the film under two hours, Sorkin and David Fincher had the actors speak faster to get all the dialogue in but I don’t view that as true. I feel that the fast delivery fits the tone that Sorkin is going for in his script. The characters as written are people who are incredibly intelligent and whose minds move faster than their mouths. Whenever one idea of theirs comes out they’ve moved onto another making all the dialogue scenes verbal gymnastics as the characters all try to keep up with each other (best seen in the opening scene with Mark and Erica) and it all works for characters like Mark Zuckerberg. This could have made the film hard to understand but instead it puts you into the mindset of the characters, further involving you in the film.
The acting meanwhile is excellent across the board. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as Mark Zuckerberg, brilliantly showing the social isolation he feels which makes him believe that FaceMash isn’t an incredibly insulting idea, along with his feelings of jealousy of Eduardo getting into the Phoenix and his resentment over people having better luck than him. He’s also great at showing Zuckerberg’s intelligence, making it believable that he could create Facebook in a few months and hack into Harvard’s servers whilst drunk. The performance also makes Mark appropriately irritating at points, showing just how much of an arse he can be which lets you understand his social difficulties. Andrew Garfield meanwhile is equally excellent as Eduardo Saverin. He brilliantly shows the more likeable nature of the character, along with his more sympathetic side which lets you understand why he’s friends with Mark in the first place. He further shows the intelligence and business mindedness of Saverin, which makes you understand why he’s so keen to have incorporate advertisements in Facebook, something which is shot down in this film but is now the lifeblood of Facebook. As the film goes on and Saverin gets pushed further away from Facebook, Garfield brilliantly shows his anger and resentment towards Mark and Sean Parker which makes you fully understand his decision to sue Mark. Speaking of Sean Parker, Justin Timberlake steals the show whenever he’s on screen. He’s equal parts funny, insightful and arrogant which combined with his paranoia and distrust of Saverin, makes him a very compelling character to watch. It’s in his final scene though where we truly see the talent of Timberlake as he shows the vulnerable, weak side of Parker, how his whole attitude throughout the film is more like a camouflage to disguise his weaknesses and when Parker opens up to Mark and we see him for who he is for the first time, we see what a sad creature Parker is and Timberlake pulls this performance off brilliantly.
Armie Hammer and the body of Josh Pence meanwhile are great as the Winklevoss twins. The twinning effects used to duplicate Hammer are excellent and matched by the performances, with special credit going to Pence for matching the body movements of Hammer brilliantly. As Cameron, Hammer shows more of a conflicted edge, not wanting Mark to get away with what he’s done but also not wanting to come across in a negative light whilst as Tyler he shows the anger felt over Mark’s theft brilliantly, leading to some of the best pieces of dialogue in the film, with this complemented by Max Minghella as Divya Narendra. Rooney Mara does a great job in a small role as Erica Albright, showing the damage that can be done by the internet, along with the permanence, along with being the most sympathetic character in the film due to how Mark treats her, with Mara showing how she will not put up with what Mark says to and about her, being one of the only people in the film to directly call Mark out for his attitude. Great performances in smaller roles are also delivered by Brenda Song, John Getz, Rashida Jones, Joseph Mazzello and David Selby, which add to the world of the film.
On a technical level, the film is incredibly impressive, as is to be expected from David Fincher. The way he directs each scene, along with how they’re shot by Jeff Cronenweth gives a lot of the scenes a bit of a foreboding air, which serves to take you away from the technology behind everything and focus on the friendships, with the direction and cinematography reflecting the state of the friendships throughout the film. The scenes depicting coding and hacking meanwhile are filmed in this incredibly engaging way, making them feel incredibly intense and pulling you into Mark’s world, letting you see how he sees everything. Now I’m no expert on coding and hacking so I can’t say for sure if the way it’s depicted is accurate but it feels really authentic to my eyes. Great use of focus is also made, making your eye emphasise certain details to further put you in the mindset of the characters, adding to the uncertain feeling of the characters and making a lot of scenes more intense, mainly the scene of the Henley Royal Regatta. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross meanwhile is excellent, going from the ominous sounds of the piano in the opening credits to emphasise what Mark is experiencing to the more electronic vibes to reflect the technology of the film, with this music mainly being seen during the scenes when Mark does the coding for FaceMash and Facebook. The use of pre-existing music is excellent as well, with particular highlights being the use of In The Hall of the Mountain King for the Henley Royal Regatta, which adds to the intensity felt by the Winklevii, along with the use of The Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man over the credits to emphasise the lonely, empty life that Mark is leading as a result of Facebook, going from having good friends but little notoriety to being the world’s youngest billionaire by alienating everyone close to him, with the song punctuating these feelings.
Overall, The Social Network is an incredible film and a film that best encapsulates this current generation. It’s a film that shows the good and the bad Facebook has done, both for the world in terms of opening up connections, and on a personal level through the story of Zuckerberg. The characters are all written and acted brilliantly, all of them given moral complexity, with there being no clear person to root for throughout, all of this aided by one of Aaron Sorkin’s best scripts which matches all these feelings with a strong sense of humour throughout. This is all anchored together by David Fincher’s brilliant direction which makes all the scenes of coding incredibly engaging. Before I started writing this review, I thought that The Social Network was merely a great film, but through watching it again and writing all these thoughts down have I come to realise just how much of a masterpiece this film is and makes it losing Best Picture and Best Director to The King’s Speech at the Oscars even more baffling than it already was. This will stand the test of time as one of the great films of the past decade and I cannot recommend this film highly enough.
My Rating: 5/5