"Social Network" a mesmerizing, must-see movie

Tue Sep 21, 2010 7:39pm EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Social Network" has as its protagonist a character drawn in a Shakespearean mode, a high-achieving individual who carries within him the seeds of his own destruction. This would, of course, be young Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the man behind the social-network phenomenon Facebook.

As the movie makes abundantly clear, the facts behind its founding are in dispute but, without a doubt, Zuckerberg did create Facebook. Yet far from celebrating this feat, the movie examines how a man who cares little about money became the world's youngest billionaire yet lost his one true friend. At least that's what the movie says happened.

The film, written by Aaron Sorkin, is based on Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires" and Sorkin's own research yet neither writer, predictably, was able to talk to Zuckerberg to get his point of view. So it is as a fictional construct -- based on ample public sources, however -- that "Mark Zuckerberg" achieves its Shakespearean dimension. He gains the whole world but loses his most meaningful asset because of a fatal flaw on view in the very first scene.

"Social" has the potential to be that rarity -- a film that gains critical laurels and award mentions yet also does killer box office. Certainly, Sorkin, the film's director, David Fincher, and its heavyweight producers have crafted a smart, insightful film that satisfies both camps. The hook is the film's of-the-moment topic but the payoff is its hero. Or antihero or villain or whatever.

The very first scene? Harvard undergrad Mark and his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), are trying to have a dinner date at a noisy Cambridge brew pub. Or at least she's trying. He's talking a mile a minute with every syllable screaming egocentricity and dripping with sarcasm and defensive insecurity. She can't even change the topic. Indeed, she can't even tell what the topic is. After one insult too many, it's easier for Erica to break up with Mark. So the flaw is most ironic -- the guy who will revolutionize the way people communicate can't communicate himself. He is virtually blind to anyone else's perspective.

Annoyed, Mark jogs home to get drunk, hit his computer and, to take his mind off Erica, accidentally invents Facebook. Okay, it's not Facebook; it's Facemash, a stupid idea that only a genius computer hacker/scientist would dream up in which he hacks into Harvard's computer system, downloads all photos from the "facebooks" of the university's houses and asks students to vote on which girls are the hottest.

The contest goes viral, crashes Harvard's computer system, earns Mark a reprimand from authorities but attracts the attention of Harvard twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence). These are wealthy and privileged scholar-athletes trying to develop an inner-campus website to create a place for students to meet, greet and perhaps score dates. They approach the anarchist-hacker, who is intrigued by their idea but prefers to go to his best friend and fellow Jew, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to finance a social network that contains elements of the Winklevosses' idea but transforms it into what we now know as Facebook.

Then the rest of the movie, in an inspired move by Sorkin, takes place at legal depositions. Because a few years later, Facebook is a billion-dollar miracle and lawsuits are flying everywhere: The twins and their Indian-American partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, who doesn't look or act Indian), and Eduardo, who has been frozen out of Facebook thanks to the Svengali-like efforts of Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), are all suing Mark.   Continued...

<p>Stars of the film "The Social Network" (L-R) Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake present an award at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California September 12, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>