the social network

— a film by David Fincher

I am a fan of David Fincher. I’ve seen everything since Alien3 and loved nearly all of it. When it was announced that he would be lensing ‘the facebook movie’; among the naysayers, I was not.

A few months back, the trailer hit.

Superb. This past Monday I was invited to a preview screening care of Sony Pictures and it left my brain buzzing.

First off; the film on its own is a fantastic watch. Although, and it is an odd comparison to draw, very much like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the social network I think will only speak to people of a certain age. What is that certain age? I don’t know.

Actually, scratch that. it’s a generational thing. Fact.

Whatever way you look at it, the social network really is a great film; there is Fincher throughout, but quietly. Almost like he’s whispering in the background and steering gently from afar. His custom clean, dark-shaded visuals, of which he is a master, are there but the flights of camera-based fancy are almost non-existent (save for a set of stunning establishing shots at Henley on Thames; tilt-shifting never looked so good).

This is a Fincher film all over but he’s adult enough to step back and let it shine on its own. Good job.

For me, the title ‘the social network‘ itself is an interesting play on words, in that while it’s obvious that it refers to the software platform that our protagonists are squabbling over, it also resonates as a nod to the group of friends who started out on this journey together and furthermore, the ensemble cast that present them to us.

Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the nerdy but gifted Mark Zuckerberg character (a point to which I’ll come back later) and holds the film together well. For anyone that’s ever watched a single episode of The West Wing, the throwaway remarks and razor sharp dialogue will be distinctly Sorkin and, although the story is boldly told from different perspectives and narratives, it is clear that ‘Zuck’ is our hero; anti-, tragic or otherwise.

Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder ‘the evil Sean Parker’ is surprisingly very good. I’m not sure why I say ‘surprising’, I’ve always thought that he’d be quite a good actor however, there’s always something nudging at you when he’s on screen. That small voice in your head saying ‘Hey… Hey! That’s Justin Timberlake up there!’, but once you get past the first 10mins or so it settles down and you can enjoy his performance which, by the way, is as good as he is dislikeable. You want to punch him in the face. A lot.

Spider-Man-in-waiting, Andrew Garfield, is probably my favourite thing from the whole film. You feel his pain, his hurt, his lack of judgement, his anger.. All of it. He is a very talented actor and, for someone so young, brings immense gravitas to what could’ve quite easily have been just a one note role.

Fincher explains in the production notes that he’d never worked with such a young cast before (Aaron Sorkin also mentioning he’s never written so young either), so he pushed for take after take after take, sometimes up 80 or 90, just to make the language more casual

“If you’re not speaking at speed, then I won’t believe it”.

When Eduardo Saverin arrives late one night looking worn out from flying, it’s because Andrew Garfield had been shooting that scene for five hours and his exasperation shines through. It’s a punishing, yet fantastically rewarding technique. Love it.

Finally, on the casting front at least, a hefty hat tip to Armie Hammer who to plays both the Winklewoss twins with an ease that is almost unnatural. I’ll admit, he’s the only one of the main cast I haven’t seen in anything else before, however if he can play two of himself with ease (I can’t imagine the line learning, shooting technique, SFX etc that were needed for that casting decision), then he definitely deserves some special attention.

Sounding like Xerses from the 300 and towering over Jesse Eisenberg like a pair of Grecian Gods, he embodies the Harvard final final club elites perfectly. Jeremy Irons would be proud.

So what of the film? Well, it’s a tough one. The different times I’ve talked about it with friends and colleagues since viewing have produced multiple responses;

  • “It’s an Aaron Sorkin script, with a Fincher wrapping.”
  • “It’s a modern day myth”
  • “It’s all still so fresh.”

I’ve said it a number of times already, the film is great… BUT you find yourself watching it all with a healthy pinch of salt. I’ve read interviews with Mark Zuckerberg. A lot of interviews. His views on privacy, sociology, business… all of them are there if you look hard enough and there are certain characteristics which don’t come through in the film. Yes, we’re six years on (just six years) and no doubt he’s changed a fair amount but still, some of it didn’t ring true for me.

Which actually, isn’t that surprising given that Zuckerberg was the only one who refused to meet with the film-makers before, during or after production. C’est la vie. When you watch this film, remember you’re watching the characterisation of a real person. One that has been drawn and painted, by others, without any approval from the source. That’s all.

Let’s put it this way; if you’re under 40 and you have a Facebook account, see this film. If you’ve been a part of (or worked within) a start-up culture, see this film. If you’re a fan of Fincher or Sorkin, see this film.

The aforementioned bold decision to not stick to one core narrative will leave you wanting more, reaching for those parts still left untold and somehow feeling that you weren’t given the full story…

But I guess that’s the point.

No matter if you end up seeing the the social network or not, the final word has to go to Zuckerberg himself:

“We build products that 500 million people see…

…if 5 million people see a movie, it doesn’t really matter that much.”