If the internet is the zeitgeist of our generation, then Facebook is surely its annex. Consequently, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for true-life stories beckoned but the speed at which the film arrived reeked of nothing more than the corporate exploitation of a cultural fad. That The Social Network succeeds in painting a mature, lucid and intelligent account of Mark Zuckerburg’s rise to wealth is a surprise indeed, though whether it is a success or not depends entirely on how one views it.
Before I give voice to my criticisms (of which there are few), I’ll detail the film’s considerable merits, not least of which is Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay. The opening scene alone features more witticisms than most scripts achieve in their entirety. The dialogue is quick, biting and superfluously clever and virtually every line is option-able as a potential clip for that inevitable nomination at next year’s Oscars. Admittedly, it’s the complete antithesis of the sort of realistic dialogue espoused by screenwriting ‘gurus’, but as a champion of stylistic speech, I could not be more pleased. In fact, at times it threatens to become too clever, emerging as a star in its own right and eclipsing the efforts of all those involved. Thankfully the cast performs each scene with a genuine lack of pretension, avoiding the type of self-importance of which overly ostentatious features like Brick (2005) are highly guilty. The increasingly likeable Jesse Eisenberg is particularly well-cast, delivering his lines with brutal conviction and shaking off his Zombie/Adventureland (2009) image with ease. His character is equal amounts admirable and loathsome, a delicate balance which very young actors could manage.
So where exactly does it falter? Well, mainly in direction. Visually, this is Fincher’s least ambitious work, although the sterile environments and direct shooting style do help to reinforce the central theme of communication. And indeed, all his auteurist trademarks can be spotted; low key lighting, rapid pans, clean cuts, offbeat soundtrack – and for the most part it works. The real problem is his inability to reign himself in. Fincher has always dabbled with postmodernism, be it the multi-layered ambivalence of Fight Club (1999) or Seven (1995)’s subversion of narrative conventions, but his recent work has taken perspectivism to the extreme. Zodiac (2007) lacked any real resolution while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) flirted with numerous ideas, none of which were consistent. The same is true of The Social Network. What starts out as an underdog story gradually descends into a (highly falsified) warning against capital greed and halfway through our protagonist takes a backseat to proceedings. Things aren’t helped by the constant back-and-forth cutting between an often languid courtroom setting and Zuckerberg’s past. Ultimately, my real concern is this film’s struggle to identify itself; is this a film about the creator of Facebook, or Facebook itself? My guess is that it was supposed to be about the former, but in the process Tinsletown had to spice things up a little. At no point are we given a real insight to Zuckerberg’s character, his wants, his needs, and by the end of the picture you’re likely to struggle to answer what exactly it was all about.
So how one views The Social Network really determines how well it succeeds. As a simple origin tale it’s perfectly enjoyable but if you’re looking for anything deeper, prepare to be disappointed.
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