Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), written by Emmy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and based on Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, this is a rich, surprisingly suspenseful drama that, simultaneously, should be taken with a teensy grain of salt. The film paints an unflattering but no less engrossing or ironic portrait of the socially awkward Harvard computer genius responsible for launching one of the biggest social-media websites ever, but how much is fact and how much is fiction remains unclear. So, proceed with caution and glee.
And let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: this isn’t a movie about Facebook. There are no mentions of pokes or likes or Farmville. Instead, it’s about power. And popularity. And money. And how, in the end, having all those things in spades can still leave you yearning for love and acceptance.
Hugely likable Jesse Eisenberg trades in his typical “nebbish good-guy” shoes to step into the hoodie and mandals of seemingly asshatty Zuckerberg, whose desperate need to belong spurs some decidedly dubious social-ladder-climbing activities. In the process of building what would become Facebook – an idea he may have stolen from a trio of other students (and the movie definitely leans towards the “oh yes he did!” side of that debate) – he not only humiliates an ex (Rooney Mara) and gradually alienates his best friend and co-developer, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), but infuriates many with his arrogance and unapologetic behavior. As his Harvard-only website begins to expand to other universities, Zuckerberg eventually falls under the glittery, the-world-is-our-oyster spell of twentysomething Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) for an increasingly savage pursuit of fame, notoriety and girls.
Always energized, and jumping back and forth in time between various intellectual-property hearings, The Social Network is blessed with a smart script and terrific cast that make its two-hour running time fly past. The trio of Eisenberg, Garfield and Timberlake is superb, with each one crafting a unique and layered performance, and the shifting allegiances between them make for a riveting onscreen chess game of relationships. Most telling, perhaps, is that the prevailing feeling left with the viewer (or me, anyway) after bearing witness to the rise and further rise of Mark Zuckerberg is not really one of envy or anger or eye-rolling, but sadness.
Despite the fact that most people already know the outcome of the story – namely, that Facebook has grown into a huge, multi-billion-dollar empire – the proceedings never get dull, and the machinations responsible for a global phenomenon, be they true or not, provide a sobering reminder that behind every great invention is a world of trials, tribulations and tumult.