Monday, January 24, 2011

The Social Network

I don’t know what it says about the general quality of the films that came out this year, but where my review yesterday of The King’s Speech was about a film I expect to be nominated for Best Picture, here is a film I am 80% sure will actually win Best Picture (the other 20% is going towards Inception). It’s kind of a combination of both films being extremely good, and there being a bit of a dearth of films this past year that have any kind of real buzz to them whatsoever. I’d hate to think they were going to go with ten Best Picture nominees again this year, because I have no real clue how they’d fill all those slots up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film is the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the founder of Facebook and the world’s youngest billionaire. It opens with him verbally assaulting his girlfriend in a lame effort to prove his intellectual superiority (resulting in their unsurprising breakup), and his subsequent blogging about how awful a person she is for dumping him and the swift drunken creation of a new website where he illegally stole all the images of college girls from various university databases and put them online for people to compare and contrast. After this gets him on academic probation, he’s contacted by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who decide he’s the perfect candidate to help them create a new social networking site called Harvard Connection, which differs from preexisting ones like Myspace and Friendster because you can only see the pages of people you’re already friends with, creating an air of exclusivity to the site. He agrees to help, then spends the next month and a half blowing them off in e-mail while creating his own site The Facebook with the exact same premise. The rest is history.

The film obviously has quite a few hurdles to overcome, and it succeeds at all of them wonderfully. First, it has the difficulty of showing a bunch of computer programmers doing their jobs without boring the audience or betraying any ignorance about what they’re doing, and director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin manage to find a way to simultaneously show how complicated everything is while explaining it all in clear enough terms for the audience to understand. There’s also the problem with the main character being pretty much a total dick to everyone around him, and that’s solved in part by surrounding him with somewhat more sympathetic characters (and apparently also by toning down Zuckerberg’s overall awful personality somewhat from how he is in real life, though he still seems fairly miserable no matter how successful he gets), giving us some semi-likable characters to root for as they’re alternately screwed over by Zuckerberg and go on to sue him for all they can get. There’s also the issue of just how illegal his operations in getting Facebook into the powerhouse it is today were, and to the film’s credit it keeps things pretty murky here, though it’s pretty obvious that he’s at least partially guilty of the various charges his former associates lay at his feet.

Two of the main things that help the film out are Fincher’s relentlessly fast pacing, taking us through the highs and lows of getting Facebook from a germ of an idea to its first million users at a constant run, aided and abetted by a fantastic soundtrack put together by Trent Reznor. Fincher, of course, isn’t exactly a stranger to making fast paced films, having previously helmed such efforts as Seven, The Game, and Fight Club, and he and Reznor manage to blend their styles together pretty much perfectly here. My favorite moment of their collaboration comes when Zuckerberg has a meeting with his friend and business partner Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, at a dance club. While dozens of people are out dancing on the floor, they’re at a table while deafening music swells and ebbs around them like a physical addition to their group, keeping us from hearing entire sentences and leaving them in the inconvenient position of having to shout at the top of their lungs at each other for the entire conversation. It gave me some not very fond memories of the few times I’ve been out clubbing, and I don’t miss them at all.

Getting back on track, I meant what I said earlier about how I’m fairly sure this is going to win Best Picture. It’s got all the buzz, it’s got all the talent, and it has the benefit of coming out in a year without that many great films. It’s a film that’s well worth your while, regardless of your feelings on Facebook, and is every bit as smart and ruthless as its protagonist.

Rating: ****

No comments: