The Establishing Shot: The Social Network Review

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the social network reviewThis review was originally published on and can be found here!

The Social Network Review

The time before
When I first heard that Facebook the Movie was coming I have to admit I wrote it off as a novelty doomed to failure. Assuming that it was to be a light hearted romp, something along the lines of Super Mario Bros. Bear in mind that this was around the time there were rumours of Sir Ridley Scott doing Monopoly the Movie. It was conceivable that this was some new wacky Hollywood fade. Then I heard David Fincher was involved! Interesting. Based on an Alan Sorkin screenplay! Interesting. Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake to star. Oh! Oh!

More recently
So. What do I know about The Social Network? It’s directed by David Fincher, talented beyond belief, with an oddly hit or miss resume. Let’s be honest he has made some of our favourite films but some mildly boring ones as well.

Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Years of writing dialogue for savvy characters on West Wing have honed his unique, sharp, quick fire and on point dialogue. As well as “You can’t handle the truth” (A Few Good Men) he is also responsible for one of my favourite shows of all time Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Anyone?

Anyway Aaron Sorkin adapted the novel “The Accidental Billionaires” a “story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook.” from successful Harvard writer Ben Mezrich. You may remember one of his previous books “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” as the Kevin Spacey starrer 21. Which I thought was mildly lame. However I haven’t read any of his novels so I can’t comment on whether it was a faithful adaptation of the book or not. Bringing us to Kevin Spacey - executive producer for The Social Network. Oh yes, Trent Reznor was involved in the original soundtrack.

It stars Jesse Eisenberg (I’m a big fan since the bittersweet The Education of Charlie Banks, but haven’t been blown away by him since, even the seemingly fan favourite Zombieland was lacking somewhat for me), Rooney Mara (soon to be David Fincher’s Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake), Max Minghella (talented son of the late great Anthony Minghella), Andrew Garfield (again, since Boy A I’ve been a fan, still waiting for his breakout role though – soon to be seen in the highly anticipated Never Let Me Go and he’s Spider-Man in the Sony 3D reboot. Slightly ironic as David Fincher was once shortlisted for Spider-Man but his own take didn’t go down well. He recently said that as wonderful and talented as Andrew Garfield is, he just can’t see him as Spider-Man – but is happy for him regardless. That didn’t stop Tobey Maguire from been cast?), and Justin Timberlake (who seems to be in phase go, go, go of his move into film plan).

This week
So the other morning I roll into a screening of The Social Network. Seats are taken, lights dim, projection flickers to life, well more like light saber flares to life. Again I’m struck by the high quality of the projection and sound output.

We are immediately dropped into a conversation between Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) across a table of the Thirsty Scholar Pub in the student town of Somerville. This is not just any conversation, sure it’s establishing the slight over functioning of Zuckerberg’s mind, his ambitions (get the attention of the elite university clubs), his insecurities and how mismatched Zuckerberg and Albright – well Zuckerberg and just about anyone are really. It’s showing just how talented actors can shine with great material and it’s showing how David Fincher is a master of turning a seemingly mundane scene into an incredibly textured canvas. Seriously the guy gives the scene such depth and compelling richness – that I was in, I was completely in, putty in the hands of a master filmmaker. I could have walked out before the title sequence was finished and The Social Network would still have been one of the best films I had seen this year.

The Good
Fincher unspools the tale of the making of Facebook at a break neck speed there are no pauses for effect or slo-mo dramatics, every scene is part of the story and not a set up. We follow Mark Zuckerberg as he leaves the pub back to his dorm room where upset and slightly intoxicated he develops Face Smash a site that allows users to compare and rate two female student faces. While he is developing this we are introduced to his friends who pop in. Friends that include Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who is initially the voice of reason trying to stop him then giving Zuckerberg an algorithm to make the application function. Although a campus success Harvard takes exception to Zuckerberg using student’s pictures for his amusement. He’s hauled in to be disciplined. This act raises his profile enough to get him a meeting with some of those elites (the Winklevoss twins) he was very eager to impress. Which in turn sparks the idea behind Facebook.

What follows is the very compelling story of the rise and rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook from his dorm room, to Paolo Alto, through the boardrooms of venture capitalists to being the youngest billionaire yet. Although this is the arc of the story the real tale is the relationships of the people connected to Zuckerberg on this journey. This circle is condensed to a small number of people so pretty soon we know everyone and engaged in their perspectives, rationale and motivations.

I have to say that the acting in The Social Network is superb all round particularly Jesse Eisenberg who really paints an eloquent picture of the ambitious yet ambiguous Zuckerberg that he is portraying. Andrew Garfield is emotive as the dependable but ultimately frozen out Saverin. And what of Justin Timberlake? Well, he’s definitely an actor now. He plays Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster) when we are introduced to him he is all Rock ‘n’ Roll but he slowly slides down to sleazy punk. In case you are wondering why he’s getting more lines than the other serious actors it’s because his character is pivotal to the story. He is also the closest to an antagonist that we come to. Not only is he the catalyst for Facebook’s success but he is also the wedge that drives the friendship you want to work, apart. His character also emphasizes that computer nerds/geeks are the new rock stars and one of the reasons we are watching a film about Facebook.

The Bad (or rather The Ambiguous)
In the interest of fairness I need to throw out some of the bits I didn’t enjoy or “get”. Although I just watched a two hour film I still didn’t really understand much of Zuckerberg’s motivations, we are presented with a number of options in the film; the girl, petty jealousy, ambition, rebellion, misguided, youth, and greed. Which is fine, much like real life motivations are often a mixture of different things. And in the press conference that followed it was highlighted how private Mark Zuckerberg was in both business and personal dealings. In case you missed it Live for Film covered the Press conference, and it’s a good read.

So it may be that we really just don’t know and this is possibly a pitfall of making a film set in contemporary times, featuring people that are very much still part of the fabric of culture. However I just couldn’t shake that there was some tip toeing around legal issues of portraying something that one of the characters might go to court over. Maybe this is answered in Ben Mezrich’s novel, which I’ll have to read to possibly get closure.

This could also be because maverick/punk filmmaker Fincher doesn’t feel the need for exposition and would like us to think about what has happened. Much of the motivations are left open ended and to our own interpretation, could this be because the story of Facebook is far from over?
In Summary

The Social Network went straight into my top 3 film of 2010. As you ask; A Prophet and Inception, in that order.

The magic of The Social Network is that there are; no gratuitous sex scenes or nudity, no choreographed physical confrontations, no guns, no car chases (although there is a boat race in our own Henley-on-Thames), explosions or special effects. Scratch that the one special effect (creating the identical Winklevoss twins) is not the crux of the story or a cheap device.

David Fincher uses the brilliant acting, outstanding screenplay, cracking dialogue, brilliant editing and his genius eye overlaid with a suitably dark soundtrack to pull together an engaging and compelling two hour story of an innovative company being made around a handful of relationships. I should also mention that I found the whole story underpinned with satire and I was laughing a lot during the screening; I mention this last as I may have been the only one in the screening laughing a lot.

You can download a free five track The Social Network soundtrack EP here:

The Social Network will be connecting with you on a big screen from the 15 October, 2010

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and a cameo by Aaron Sorkin.


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