Fincher’s ‘Social Network’ nails human frailty

Posted by · 10:45 pm · September 13th, 2010

The best films are rarely about just one thing, but rather that one thing as reflected through a variety of narrative prisms.  And there is something to be said about a film that manages to distill an era while profoundly conveying a character study within.

David Fincher’s “The Social Network” may be the quintessential story of young Machiavellian entrepreneurship in an age of streamlined communication, but it is also a story of the social disconnect that can be as galvanizing as any other source of ambition…for better or worse.  The Mark Zuckerberg of Fincher’s film uses the sting of that disconnect to spark a fire of creativity, and the film very much concerns itself with the gauntlet of his motivation.  (The New Yorker’s profile, culled from rare extensive interviews with the 26-year-old billionaire, is a wonderful primer for the dramatization.)

In some sense, the film could be viewed as a distant cousin of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” both presenting protagonists flawed by their own aggressive drive.  But while Nina is a tragic figure of self-destruction, Zuckerberg is a tragic figure of self-alienation.

The veracity of the events depicted might be in question, but the portrait is actually somewhat flattering of Zuckerberg.  One can’t help but respect his shrewdness in the jungle of “business is business,” until the line is crossed.  And in that moment the film becomes something else entirely, a cold, stirring reflection of psychological frailty at its honest, authentic worst.

Andrew Garfield breathes captivating life into this scene and every emotional beat leading up to it.  He is, for so many reasons, the stand out of a perfectly cast ensemble at every step.  Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, as Napster founder and Facebook advising creator Sean Parker, also excels with a performance of energy and charisma.  Given the obvious music industry ties, it might seem like merely brilliant stunt casting, but Timberlake adds a palpable edge.

And then there is Jesse Eisenberg, whose anchored, skilfully navigated portrayal of an incredibly complex individual will hopefully not be a thankless contribution to the fall movie season.

Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth shot the film digitally and directly to memory cards — no film, no tapes, no hard drives.  It’s a brave new world for the technology and this effort couldn’t look any more gorgeous, light kissing the dark, crisp imagery in just the right places throughout.  Moreover, the chilly nature of the tale (and Fincher’s propensity to that kind of material) lends itself nicely to the cool hues.  The structure of the film, meanwhile, presents an opportunity for dazzling editing from Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, and the unconventional score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is a mesmerizing treat that sucks you right into the narrative.

But the biggest star of the show should stand up and take a bow.

Aaron Sorkin’s way with words has gone unnoticed by the Academy to date.  The man hasn’t even received a nomination.  But for this, he deserves the statue itself.  The dialog, as one would expect, crackles and pops, but beneath that Sorkin trademark is the strong thematic pulse of a very human story.

And if I haven’t mentioned Fincher it’s because this film is more free of his signature than any in his career.  That’s not to say there is an anonymous quality to the helming, but Fincher smartly lets his tonal sensibilities step in for his penchant for stylistic flourishes.

I think it may be reaching for grandiose sentiments to say “The Social Network” is a film that “defines a generation.”  However, I will say this: it is the most culturally relevant film Scott Rudin has produced since 1998’s “The Truman Show.” But while that film was a potent forecast of where we were heading as an entertainment-hungry society, this one is no less significant for its depiction of the here and now.

(I honestly didn’t mean to write this much but, alas, it is a film of ideas that inspires as much.)

[Photo: Columbia Pictures]

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40 responses so far

  • 1 9-13-2010 at 10:53 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    My excitement level for this film is reaching critical mass. Always been a huge fan of Fincher and Sorkin, but the reviews for this film are something along the lines of career best out of both of them. Fincher and Sorkin, in their own mediums and ways, have captured the zeitgeist like no other artists working today, and I’m thrilled to see that the film was the perfect marriage of director, writer, and material. Color me sold.

  • 2 9-13-2010 at 11:08 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    sounds like a rave kris

    i love fincher, i expect and hope for great things, curious to see how this impacts your predictions. though it does seem like a movie no matter how good is still limited to few nominations

  • 3 9-13-2010 at 11:17 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    Are we going to see Eisenberg return to the Best Actor prediction, Kris? I was quite entertained by that thought.

    If one film is going to knock Inception off the #1 spot for me this year, I’m guessing it’s this one. Can’t wait. Unfortunately we have to wait 2 extra months down here in the land Down Under.

    Is this the Lumet/Chayefsky-esque work that was foretold months ago?

  • 4 9-14-2010 at 12:00 am

    Fitz said...

    **Don’t read the review on Hollywood-Elsewhere as Wells spoils the ending to a degree.**

    That said, I was really looking forward to how Sorkin’s dialogue performs and apparently it lives well up to my expectations. With this and Let Me In coming out Oct. 1st I’ll have to make time for a double-feature.

  • 5 9-14-2010 at 12:08 am

    Hackett said...

    I think Sorkin saw a omination for “The American President,” no?

  • 6 9-14-2010 at 12:19 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Globes only.

  • 7 9-14-2010 at 2:06 am

    red_wine said...

    Well the last time the fever pitch was so high, it was Inception which was a big shrug for me. Before that it was probably Benjamin Button which I thought was down right awful. I hope this doesn’t go down that route.

  • 8 9-14-2010 at 2:20 am

    the other mike said...

    you got me hype for this movie cant wait 2 see it.

  • 9 9-14-2010 at 2:35 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    “And there is something to be said about a film that manages to distill an era while profoundly conveying a character study within.”

    That’s also true about Zodiac.

  • 10 9-14-2010 at 3:33 am

    Jim T said...

    Jesus, Kris. I haven’t even had my coffee and I already feel awake! Can’t wait!

  • 11 9-14-2010 at 5:14 am

    Michael W. said...

    If think it was on The Film Experience that I in the year in advance guesses said Aaron Sorkin would win for The Social Network. I stand by that :D

  • 12 9-14-2010 at 5:36 am

    ninja said...

    Awesome review. SN is getting raves and is a possible winner in BP and BD. I wouldn`t mind. It`s my third favorite for a win after Inception and Black Swan which aren`t AMPAS cup of tea.
    Franco and Portman for BA and BA win and Moretz nom or win in BSA for either Kick Ass or Let me In would be icing on a cake.

  • 13 9-14-2010 at 5:47 am

    Lucas said...

    Now we know Sorkin doesn’t need cocaine to write something good :) So excited to see this!

  • 14 9-14-2010 at 5:59 am

    JJ said...

    Red_wine ….. you disliked Benjamin Button and Inception, 2 of my faves of the last 3 years. Boo. :)

    Back the The Social Network. My anticipation is growing, simply because of the raves (as I’ve had little interest). Anyone know the budget, and what is expected box office-wise for TSN?

  • 15 9-14-2010 at 6:01 am

    Sean C. said...

    “The American President” and especially “The West Wing” (possibly my favourite TV drama ever) made me huge Sorkin fans, but everything he’s done since then has been middling at best (“Charlie Wilson’s War” was okay; “Studio 60” was poisonously self-indulgent and narcissistic). Hopefully this will be a real return to form.

  • 16 9-14-2010 at 6:15 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    In my eyes, Sorkin has no form to return to, but I’m really looking forward to this.

  • 17 9-14-2010 at 6:30 am

    Mike_M said...

    So excited for this film – love Fincher. Glad to hear your thoughts Kris.

  • 18 9-14-2010 at 6:30 am

    Jim T said...

    Guy, Sorkin wants you to know that:

  • 19 9-14-2010 at 7:00 am

    JFK said...

    I’ve been skeptical of this one’s award hopes from the get-go–something about a Facebook movie that doesn’t sit right with me. Perhaps its the part of me that detests a lot of pop culture? Either way, your review is compelling Kris and I’m curious.

  • 20 9-14-2010 at 7:49 am

    Loyal said...

    Great review Kris.

    The award season is shaping up quite nicely (IMO, The Social Network vs Inception vs The King’s Speech).

    Just curious, what was the other film you saw yesterday Kris?

  • 21 9-14-2010 at 7:51 am

    Travis said...

    Great review. Just out of curiosity, how substantial were the roles of the women in the film (particularly Brenda Song and Rashida Jones)? Any chance for awards traction there, since the SA category seems so weak?

  • 22 9-14-2010 at 8:02 am

    Ben M. said...

    Sounds like something to look forward to.

    Kris, does this now go in your cinematography predictions, I notice from the trailer that the cinematography seemed striking and with Benjamin Button and Avatar, perhaps the bias against digital in the academy is fading.

  • 23 9-14-2010 at 8:11 am

    Andrew M said...

    I agree with @Ben M. I heard the tilt- shift shot was amazing

  • 24 9-14-2010 at 8:17 am

    John said...

    “The best films are rarely about just one thing, but rather that one thing as reflected through a variety of narrative prisms.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more on that statement…very well put. And great write-up…

  • 25 9-14-2010 at 8:38 am

    JJ said...

    Kris, does the Cinematography, Editing, and Score single out as great in their own right for a nomination, or could you just see them getting swept in with (possible) AMPAS love of the film (if they go for it)?

  • 26 9-14-2010 at 9:22 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I really don’t think Reznor and Ross will get the proper respect. Think of the branch we’re talking about here.

    The editing is a lock for a nomination (I’ve actually had it in my predictions since day one because to go by the script, it was obvious the film was going to have a lot of life). The cinematography, maybe. It would be on a list of 10 possibilities, though.

    And to the poster who asked about the women, they are not used in singular way, but they greatly impact Zuckerberg’s psychology.

  • 27 9-14-2010 at 9:46 am

    Hero said...

    Great piece, Kris!

    And, Guy, amen.

    I’m still trying to figure out why I’m so excited to see this movie. I don’t like Sorkin, Fincher is okay, and I loathe Facebook with the passion of a thousand suns. Yet this movie just keeps looking better and better.

  • 28 9-14-2010 at 11:44 am

    Filmoholic said...

    “In my eyes, Sorkin has no form to return to, but I’m really looking forward to this.”

    Couldn’t agree more. The American President and A Few Good Men are strictly middlebrow fare. But I’m really, really excited for this.

  • 29 9-14-2010 at 12:09 pm

    James said...

    So Kris, would you say this film will find oscar nominations its way on the basis of quality or do you think this material could really attract to the Academy as well?

  • 30 9-14-2010 at 2:21 pm

    Danny King said...

    I’m guessing you think Garfield’s chances are far better for this film versus NLMG.

  • 31 9-14-2010 at 2:35 pm

    Fitz said...

    Social Network will lend itself to heated conflict between Garfield and Eisenburg which the Academy tends to recognize i.e. Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Ledger (TDK), Bardem (No Country).

  • 32 9-14-2010 at 4:17 pm

    JJ said...

    Thanks for your response, Kris. :-) That’s basically what I figured. Def. ready to see this one!

  • 33 9-14-2010 at 4:49 pm

    Drew said...

    Great review and a very well-written piece. I have but one question though that is slightly meaningless but still garners enough trivial interest of me to ask…is Paul Young’s Land of The Common people still used in the film

  • 34 9-14-2010 at 4:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s in the script, actually. And it’s “Love” of the Common People. And no, it’s not…at least I didn’t catch it used as expressively as it was in the script. That scene uses something a little more generation-appropriate. It’s better for it, I think.

  • 35 9-14-2010 at 5:01 pm

    Drew said...

    Thanks, I thought that was a strange choice as well, but given it’s from Sorkin’s era it shouldn’t have been that surprising. I’ll wait to see what the track change is.

  • 36 9-14-2010 at 7:20 pm

    Adam M. said...

    Ugh. I was definitely underwhelmed by this film–but I seem to be the only one! I do like it more as I think back on it, but as it was playing, it felt too unsubstantial, and actually quite obvious. It’s really just a courtroom drama intercut with flashbacks–smartly intercut, yes, but lacking the power and bite it would require to resonate fully on broader themes.

  • 37 9-14-2010 at 9:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think your interpretation might be more undercooked than you seem to think the film is, Adam. All due respect. It’s much more than “just a courtroom drama intercut with flashbacks.” Much, much more. I encourage you to give it another look and consider a bit more.

  • 38 10-02-2010 at 10:05 am

    Sean C. said...

    I thought it was really good. The story felt like it just kind of stopped, but I suppose there wasn’t much else they could do with that, given the facts (Facebook is still around, Zuckerberg runs it, etc.).

    The actors were all very good; Timberlake had the showiest role, Garfield the most emotional (potentially interesting competition in the supporting category there).