The Social Network: Facebook Face-off

FB Status Update: “Your best friend is suing you for $600 million.”

Okay, not really, Not unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and only in the part fictitious version of your life in The Social Network playing in cinemas here from Oct 28.

But as the movie’s tagline goes: You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

Which is probably one of the reasons why when news broke in 2008 that there would be a Facebook movie, hardly anybody thought it would be any good.

[Check out the review from our sister station, CTV:]

Yet, when you think about it, how can there not be a massive audience for a behind-the-scenes tale of an undergrad who gave us an addictive internet destination that taught us to “poke” friends, has overtaken the Google behemoth beginning this year, and reported 500 million active users since Jul 21?

It certainly helps that famed director David Fincher (director of cult classic 1999‘s Fight Club and 2008’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button) was helming the project, with Jesse Eisenberg (2009‘s Zombieland), Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield ( 2009‘s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), future star of the rebooted Spider-Man franchise, taking top billing in the film.

But even now, with The Social Network achieving critical and commercial acclaim, some people are still skeptical about its quality.

Adapted from the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich on a budget of US$50 million (S$65 million), The Social Network traces the story of how Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) went from being feted for creating Facebook to getting sued for allegations of fraud and intellectual property theft.

The four creators of Facebook huddled behind a computer.
The four creators of Facebook huddled behind a computer.

The Social Network uses a framing device that switches from present day, where Zuckerberg is testifying in depositions in 2 lawsuits, to the time when he was creating Facebook.

It starts off fairly slowly with a lengthy scene when Zuckerberg’s girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), breaks up with him. In a drunken angst, Zuckerberg creates “” in a single night with the help of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), yes the guy who supposedly then sued him for $600 million.  Facemash was a website that allowed people to choose which of 2 girls was hotter, using stolen web directory photos of girls who lived in different residential halls at Harvard University, where the protagonists are undergrads.

Getting 22,000 hits within 4 hours of the site going up, Zuckerberg crashed the school’s servers, which earned him a 6-month academic probation. It also drew the attention of the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who asked him to help them create a website called Harvard Connection, exclusive to Harvard students only.

Saverin (Garfield) writing the algorithm that helped created FaceMash
Saverin (Garfield) writing the algorithm that helped created FaceMash.

Zuckerberg agrees, but instead of working on their site, started working on his own site called Thefacebook with Saverin pumping in an initial US$1000 at first, then an additional US$18,000 as the Chief Financial Officer. After Thefacebook goes live and becomes bigger and bigger, things come to a head when Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) starts giving input to Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss find out they’ve been conned.

The framing device of Zuckerberg testifying was a masterstroke by Fincher, contrasting the friendship and closeness Saverin and Zuckerberg a few years ago to the animosity between them now.

Garfield and Eisenberg unquestionably also put in the best performance of their short careers so far. The taut tension between the 2 could be cut with a string. Zuckerberg’s self absorption in Facebook was brilliantly portrayed and Saverin’s cautious personality was brought to life by Garfield.

Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) discussing the future of Facebook in a bar with Parker (Timberlake).
Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) discussing the future of Facebook in a bar with Parker (Timberlake).

The dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin (1992’s acclaimed A Few Good Men and creator of 1999’s The West Wing) is incredibly sharp with some surprisingly funny and sarcastic comments coming from the cast, for example this conversation between junior lawyer Delpy (Rashida Jones) and Zuckerberg.

Marylin Delpy: Bosnia. They don’t have roads in Bosnia, but they have Facebook.

Zuckerberg: Just checking on how Facebook is doing in Bosnia.

Marylin Delpy: What are you doing?

The plot moves along quickly enough from Zuckerberg building the first incarnation of Facebook for Harvard students and expanding it to more schools and even reaching English universities by the end of the film.

In a scene near the end of the film when the Winklevoss twins row in a competition, Fincher films it using tilt-shift photography. Tilt-shift photography is a method of taking photographs or video that makes the landscape and people look like miniature models. It’s a great change of pace from Zuckerberg’s intense deposition, and will give tilt-shift photography exposure to a lot of people who haven’t seen it before.

Saverin (Garfield) really bummed out after getting his shares diluted.
Saverin (Garfield) really bummed out after getting his shares diluted.

The Social Network is a very talky film, but that only proves the strength of a script that doesn’t need any explosions or scantily clad women to distract audiences.

Take everything with a grain of salt, though, since The Social Network is a film based on a book that Saverin served as a consultant on. Since Saverin sued Zuckerberg for diluting his shares, his version of the story might be a little different from the Facebook CEO’s.

It’s a stunning look at the underbelly of Facebook that not many people knew, including me. It was a surprise to me to find out that the founder of Napster was involved in Facebook and that Zuckerberg was not the only founder of Facebook, but that Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes were involved too.

Despite the slow start, The Social Network picks up after the opening breakup scene and starts sprinting towards the finishing line, leaving audiences breathless and wanting more.

The Social Network Trailer

Movie: The Social Network

Rating: ★✭★✭★

Opens: 28 October 2010
Duration: 121 minutes
Language: English
Age Rating: NC16
Genre: Drama

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield


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