Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network (2010) – Review

The Social Network is smart, funny, engaging, interesting, and so much more than anyone could have ever guessed a film about Facebook would be (and yeah, the overall truthfulness of the story depicted is irrelevant to me). Right from the first scene (and what a brilliant scene it is, probably the best I have seen this year, to date) it is clear that this is a special film. The interplay and fast-moving pointed dialog between all the characters is beyond top-notch and is something that is missing in most Hollywood films. What makes this scene so good, and many in the film, is that right from the beginning the audience completely understands the characters, the film and the magic of what is about to happen. Only to be followed up with a scene that completely revolutionizes how technology can and maybe should be portrayed to the masses. While what Mark Zuckerberg is doing is complicated, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin design the scene to be completely and somewhat universally understood. Sure there is technical jargon throughout the film, but it does not matter or hinder the viewer’s overall understanding. However, this is not what makes the film great. The film is a tale about a young man that is completely alone and sad. He is brilliant, but that does not translate into his ability to make friends – which is ironic given the subject matter (and really the premise of Facebook – are your Facebook friends actually your real life friends). Fincher is able to capture a character and promote him in such a way that he should be the protagonist, but does the audience like him – probably not. But he is not an antagonist either, not really at least. Zuckerberg is trapped in what he imagines is the way things are and should be and that influences his attitude, persona and decisions. But the problem is that his perception is altogether flawed and really more of an ideal than an actuality, which isolates him even more and fundamentally disconnects him from humanity and reality. He does not have any friends, because he does not actually understand what it is to be or have a friend. And thus the story is sad. The viewer could hate him, as he is kind of a jerk, all the time, but he does not know any better or even have the capability to know better as he seems to have no basis for real human interaction, which is why he is so drawn to the social internet experience. His one true goal is too be esteemed and respected – which influences his behavior (stemming again from what he thinks he should act like to garner these attributes from others). When others succeed because of inherent wealth alone, he is jealous and spiteful. He champions self-made, bottom to the top, types (because that is what he essentially is). The film is on the surface the interesting story of the founding of Facebook, but really Fincher and Sorkin are more interested in the character of Zuckerberg (or one like him). Facebook is a backdrop and could be anything. It is not the point. The point is to look at what our society has become, as Zuckerberg is an amalgamation, and maybe exaggeration, of the culture of the modern computer-social man – alone and disconnected from real meaningful experiences. He longs for real interaction, but he just does not know how, and yet he creates the most successful social network ever. The story carries the audience, as there is no character that they can get behind and root for, which would often be the downfall of a film – if the viewer does not care about the characters, then they do not have a stake in the outcome and thus are not full engaged in the narrative – but Fincher is able to look at his characters, society and culture in an earnest manner while substituting story for protagonist. It is risky, but he does it masterfully (though, I wonder how well the film plays upon multiple viewing – now that you know the story and are left with the characters, does it still work? I think it does because again, Fincher and Sorkin substitute protagonist with wonderful dialog and scenes and perfect performances that intrinsically emote the needed emotions that influence the viewer, regardless whether there is a likable character to take stock in). The Social Network works because Fincher is a great director and knows how to structure a complicated film with mostly unlikable characters.

Technical achievements: as stated at agony above, director Fincher and writer Sorkin are masters of narrative storytelling and this film basically succeeds on their talent (in lesser hands this would just be a stale film with limited interest based on each viewer’s appeal in knowing the story of the founding of Facebook – i.e. more than likely it would not be good). The film is also very good aesthetically. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (and Fincher movie veteran) collaborates well with Fincher allowing the camera be fluid and moving, yet focus on what is most important. The color scheme, like many of Fincher’s films, is dark with brown and earthy colors making for a kind of depressing overtone to the film, but given the character and subject matter it is quite fitting.  The editing by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall in film is great, which it needed to be to precisely capture the wit and interplay of the scenes, characters and dialog. Donald Graham Burt’s production design is good, fitting the feel of the scenes well. The score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor is outstanding. While it is subtle in places, it captures the loneliness in the story (I loved what I think is Reznor’s rendition of In the Hall of the Mountain King). The cast is great in the film; all are very suited and give good performances. However, there are a few that are just amazing. The film’s star, Jesse Esenberg, perfectly encapsulates the character (though it is on-type for him, but still it is a wonderful performance). Andrew Garfield is among the best young actors working today, and he shows it with his performance. He is just a kid, naïve to the ways of the world desperately trying to be an adult. Justin Timberlake plays his role as we imagine he is like, yet behind the wow is a tragic figure akin to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes. The two breakout performances in the film belong to Armie Hammer and Rooney Mara. Nether is given lots of screen time, but they are mesmerizing in what they have. Hammer is hilarious, while Mara needed to be perfect, as her performance launches the whole narrative (and she is). The film has a difficult narrative structure to derive a great film from, being that there is no real protagonist or character of any sort to cheer for or get behind, but Fincher, cast and crew do just that – make a great film.

The Social Network lives on its wit, performances and irony. It challenges the audience to engage themselves in a study of a flawed and lonely character, and they do – enjoying every bit of it. 9/10

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