Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Film Review: The Social Network

Whatever you might think about Facebook, there is no denying its genius and enormous impact on the world. It forever revolutionised a generation and how we conduct social interactions with our fellow man. Such is its success that it has made creator Mark Zuckerberg the world's youngest billionaire, commanding an empire purported to be worth in excess of $30billion. But how did this much maligned figure manage to achieve such gargantuan heights in a market already saturated with social networking sites such as Friendster and MySpace? Well, if you've ever wondered the answer to this question, then they've only gone and made a film about it.

In a sort of biographic effort of sorts, The Social Network tracks Mark Zuckerberg's (Eisenberg) beginnings as a student at Harvard University. Dumped by his girlfriend for being a conceited twit, Zuckerberg embarks on a drunken quest for revenge by publishing a malevolent blog and hacking into all the local college computers in order to build a website comparing women to humiliate her. The site proves so popular that it dawns on Zuckerberg to create a social networking site called 'The Facebook', becoming an overnight success. As the site's popularity grows, Zuckerberg becomes alienated from his best friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), seduced by the promises of Napster founder Sean Parker (Timberlake), whilst infuriating the 6'5, 220lb Winklevoss twins who claim he has stolen their idea.

To start with this is a peculiar story to put to film. It is incredibly talky, nerdy and you won't find any high-octane car chases with explosions either. Even as a tale of yesterday's news and its understated appearance, The Social Network is actually an interesting paradox, charting the creation of an internet tool which brought millions together whilst simultaneously driving a close group of friends apart. While the portrayal of Zuckerberg may or may not be unfair, Eisenberg nonetheless does a superb job of capturing the mind of a conflicted genius with a wholly unpredictable set of motivations. Indeed, he sets up 'The Facebook' partly out of spite, partly out of competition and partly to climb the social ladder rather than anything as forward-thinking as accumulating material wealth.

Whether Zuckerberg is anything like he is represented is neither here nor there. While on the one hand distinguished as a villain, the other characters around him also appear equally limited. As Saverin becomes increasingly ostracised and delves into petty reactions, the Winklevoss twins Zuckerberg leads on a wild goose chase stake claim to 'The Facebook' on the grounds of intellectual property theft. Into all of this steps Machiavellian Napster founder, Sean Parker, who appeals to all of Zuckerberg's most reckless instincts and is played with relish by Justin Timberlake.

The Social Network is an engaging and understated character drama. While there isn't immediately an enormous amount going on in, it maintains a certain charm bubbling underneath the surface. Indeed there are many complex themes occurring and while the subject matter could at first glance appear surprising, this film does well to capture a picture of our times. It raises interesting questions about the man who created a global phenomenon; is he an arch-manipulator and a cheat? Also painting a fascinating portrait of the petty politics surrounding one of the most high-profile court cases in recent years.