DAVE DAVIES, host:
Published last May, Ben Mezrich's "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal," painted an unflattering and controversial portrait of Facebook inventor and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It's quietly become a much anticipated movie called "The Social Network," directed by David Fincher from a screenplay written by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: David Fincher's fast, entertaining, deeply cynical business saga "The Social Network" tells a disputed version of how Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg invented the Web phenomenon Facebook and became the world's youngest billionaire. To Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, it's a story that has little to do with Facebook itself and what its ascendance means to the culture. The title is either a misnomer or ironic, since the film's Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is emotionally paralyzed, given to betraying his friends. It's a bitter joke that he'd be the one to create a tool to facilitate friendship.
No, the story Sorkin and Fincher want to tell is about a guy who creates an online social network with no social skills whatsoever to get back at a girl who dumped him - and some WASP elites who wouldn't invite him to join their Harvard club. The obvious conclusion is that only a culture rooted in greed could lionize this vengeful nerd.
I find that message both depressing and, based on what I know of Zuckerberg's life, unconvincing, but the film's hard sell is difficult to resist. Sorkin's dialogue spritzes out so fast it's as if the characters want their brains to keep pace with their processors; they talk like they keyboard. The first scene is a tour-de-force, a dialogue between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica, played by Rooney Mara, that's done at triple-speed in long takes. Zuckerberg rattles off his resentment at being ignored by Harvard's elite study clubs - places he says that actually bus in attractive college girls with the come-on: Party with the next Fed chairman. As the scene escalates, Erica picks up on the impossibility of this guy loving anyone, and ends the relationship.
And as the movie has it, that's the turning point in Zuckerberg's life. He goes back to his dorm room, gets drunk, and blogs about Erica's bust size and the likelihood that her family changed its last name to sound less Jewish. Then he hacks into the university's intranet and devises something called Facemash, in which Harvard students will have the opportunity to rank female students' pictures against one another.
When his roommate, Eduardo Saverin, played Andrew Garfield, returns, Zuckerberg asks for help in building an equation for Facemash.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Social Network")
Mr. ANDREW GARFIELD (Actor): (as Eduardo Saverin) Hey, Mark.
Mr. JESSE EISENBERG (Actor): (as Mark) Eduardo.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) You and Erica split up.
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) How did you know that?
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) It's on your blog.
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) Yeah.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) Are you all right?
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) I need you.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) I'm here for you.
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) No, I need the algorithm used for chess players.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) Are you okay?
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) We're ranking girls.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) You mean other students?
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) Yeah.
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) Do you think this is such a good idea?
Mr. EISENBERG: (as Mark) I need the algorithm or - I need the need the algorithm.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. GARFIELD: (as Eduardo Saverin) Give each girl a base rate of 1,400, at any given...
EDELSTEIN: "The Social Network" has a tricky structure. Fincher leaps back and forth between the creation of Facebook and a deposition room, where a now-wealthy Zuckerberg is being sued by two parties: the six-foot-five-inch twin championship rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer, who claim he stole their idea; and by Eduardo Saverin, who put up $19,000 but was shut out of later profits. Director Fincher has likened the film to "Citizen Kane," his protagonist becoming at once more successful and more alone, ending up with, like, zero Facebook friends.
Fincher gets the details right - the energy drinks, the alcohol, the programmers with their headphones deep in their anti-social trances -and he captures Harvard's oak-and-crimson ambience. But I could sense the actors' panic as he cracks the whip to get them talking faster and faster. This is anti-Method acting, with no time to plumb the psyche. Only singer Justin Timberlake comes through with a nuanced performance as the sleazy former Napster co-creator whose hustle is just what Facebook needs.
My larger problem is that Fincher's worldview is so sour and curdled. There's no hint in the film of a positive social network - only of a world in which losing a few friends is a small price to pay for becoming a billionaire.
The real Zuckerberg has a dismaying unconcern for privacy. But he has another side too, one that dreams of finding a tool for expanding our horizons. If Fincher made a biopic of Thomas Edison, there'd be a lot about him cheating other inventors, which he allegedly did, but nothing at all about how nice it is to be able to call someone on the phone.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.