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Movie Review: The Social Network

There's madness in the machinery
The Social Network
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 120 min
Release Date: 2010-10-01
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

David Fincher obsesses about obsessive people.

All eight of the director's films are about heroes or villains who become amazingly single-minded. They pursue peace through violence ("Fight Club"), a seemingly unattainable romance ("The Strange Case of Benjamin Button") or an elusive serial killer ("Zodiac"), but all chase goals to a point of madness.

So it is with Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network." But what is he chasing? Not money, apparently, though he's described in the film as the world's youngest billionaire. Not friendships, which he threw away. Not women, over whom he ran roughshod, or whom he avoided altogether. Not power, to which he seems indifferent. Not even fame, though being the main architect of Facebook earned him worldwide attention.

No, he's chasing an indefinable, immeasurable quality: coolness. And this meditation by Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires," shows the cost of achieving that end (if he did) above all others.

The film crackles with the energy and overlapping dialogue of an old Howard Hawks comedy. (Just Google him.) From its opening motormouthed monologue to its unexpectedly quiet ending, people run everywhere, bark dialogue, row boats briskly. When Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) types computer code, he rattles along at a pace that would give a court stenographer a cramp. At 121 minutes, this is Fincher's second-shortest feature; if everyone spoke at normal speed, it would be 20 minutes longer.

The movie leaps back and forth from 2003, when the Harvard sophomore created the first version of the site with three collaborators, to 2008, when one - former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) - sued him. At the same time, Zuckerberg was being sued by three other ex-Harvard students who claimed he'd stolen the basic idea from them.

Sorkin smoothly connects past and present, often leaping in mid-sentence from lawsuit testimony read aloud to the moment the dialogue was first (allegedly) spoken.

Though we spend more time with Zuckerberg than anyone else, we know him almost entirely through other people's takes on him. A girlfriend he sees as intellectually inferior drops him in the first scene, saying, "Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster."

To Saverin, he's a mercurial genius who can't be trusted. To Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), he's a chance to get rich again legally and a way to extend a middle digit to corporate types who presumably did Parker wrong. To members of an exclusive Harvard club, he's an ungentlemanly soul - perhaps an ungentlemanly Jewish soul, as there's a hint of discrimination - who may not belong in that elite circle.

The movie has humor, especially in Douglas Urbanski's cameo as a breezy Harvard president. It has terrific acting in leading roles; Eisenberg gives us a speeded-up rendition of his previous performances, but it fits. There's also fine cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth and softly pulsating music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Best of all, the movie asks questions about the intrusive and often abusive side of social media.

"Privacy is a thing of the past!" chirps Parker. "We used to live on farms, then in cities. Now we live on the Internet." But is that such a good thing? Even Zuckerberg, who was brought low by his own e-mails and a humiliating blog, might have mixed thoughts.

The young tycoons plant rumors online, cheat or embarrass each other and use computers to avoid personal contact, like spies sneaking through adjacent alleyways without meeting. For all the vaunted "connectedness" of Facebook, "The Social Network" reminds us that it often keeps us from connecting deeply with each other.

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9/30/2010 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

Examination of the life of Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg clicks on all cylinders, and at top speed.

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