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Jason Wallis Fincher’s ‘Social Network’ more than just ‘the Facebook movie’

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:00 am

OK, so maybe “The Social Network” won’t make $200 million at the domestic box office. Once again, I appear to have overestimated the taste and sanity of mainstream American movie-goers. I’ll learn someday.

Meantime, I’ll take solace in the fact that the film at least opened at No. 1 with a larger-than-expected weekend gross, and at this point I’m still seeing it as the front-runner for best picture and director Oscars. And, as expected, it has turned out to deserve every bit of wild praise that it’s receiving.

My advice to you is to take advantage of “The Social Network” and “The Town” — two absolutely spellbinding, world-class films made for discriminating viewers — while you can, because the next several weeks are looking lean on the whole “world-class” thing.

This weekend brings “Buried,” “Life As We Know It,” “My Soul to Take,” “Secretariat” and “Stone,” and I’ll be damned if there’s a single one of those that I’m even remotely excited about seeing. (I thought we were supposed to be in the midst of awards season here, and they’re giving us “Life As We Know It”?) I’ll probably cross my fingers, sacrifice a chicken and take a shot with “My Soul to Take” for next week’s column, followed by “Red” the week after, I guess, and then pray that “Paranormal Activity 2” doesn’t suck (an unlikely prospect).

Also, a quick reminder to hit up www.lodinews.com/blogs/battle_royale and join our discussion on our/your favorite movie scenes. Heather’s is up now, and I’ve added some YouTube links so you can watch many of the scenes in question. Content will be beefed-up very soon, so please be patient while we settle in.

Were it not for the involvement of David Fincher, I would have had little interest in “The Social Network,” the new film about the founding of Facebook. ’Cause here’s the thing: I hate Facebook. I hate the manner in which it was conceived, I hate its effect on the online community, the banality of its users’ content and its needlessly confusing interface. Most of all, I hate everyone always asking me if I’m on Facebook, and when I tell them that I have no intention of ever starting a page, seeing them look at me as if I just asked where the Internets are. Facebook is a bunch of crap (helpful hint: I don’t care if you went out today to buy shoelaces and a can of Pringles, and I certainly don’t want to see a photographic record of this adventure), and resistance to its influence can only make you a better, stronger person.

That said, this “Facebook movie” is fascinating — even if you couldn’t care less about the website, or believe, as I do, that it will eventually become sentient and destroy the world Skynet-style. That’s because the one, the only, David Fincher is on board to once again prove that he can take anything and spin it into pure, unbridled genius. Due credit must be given to screenwriter extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men” and TV’s “The West Wing” being among his more notable achievements), whose razor-sharp script serves as a great template. But if another, less creative filmmaker was helming this project, it may very well have turned out as an interesting but forgettable fluff piece — “Pirates of Silicon Valley” with better dialogue.

Fincher, however, turns it into something else entirely: a feverish, character-based thriller whose eye-popping stylistic prowess is linked to its narrative and thematic content like few films I’ve seen. Fincher turns the everyday sets — a college campus, a dorm room, a local bar — into carefully rendered set-pieces, aided significantly by “Fight Club” cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and the invasive, pulsating score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The director uses these elements to create a hellishly sterile vision of modern-day capitalism and its social ramifications, and this melds seamlessly with the film’s overall concerns about the cut-throat nature of all contemporary youth culture. So to reiterate: This is Fincher’s film, not Sorkin’s. And it’s easily his best work in more than a decade.

“The Social Network” tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg (a fantastically stoic Jesse Eisenberg, who for the last time is not Michael Cera), who as a sophomore at Harvard University developed the worldwide phenomenon known as Facebook. In an early sequence — the best in the film — we see our impulsive anti-hero, drunk and vengeful after being dumped by his would-be girlfriend, hack into a handful of university servers to download photos of the female student body to be used in an interactive “either/or” hotness ranking project — like hotornot.com, only more degrading. Clearly, this is a brilliant young man whose genius is matched only by his propensity to piss people off.

As the tagline says, you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies. As Zuckerman expands the scope of his “prank” into what we now know as Facebook, the film interjects with deposition scenes from two lawsuits filed against Zuckerman by several parties who claim partial responsibility for the site’s success. Who is ultimately “responsible” for Facebook is, in a way, left for the viewer to decide, as the answer depends largely on one’s own philosophical approach to issues of business ethics.

But still, the film (accurately, I think) paints Zuckerman as a rather amoral man — not “evil,” perhaps, but certainly willing to be easily seduced by the faux-billionaire-cool allure of figures like Napster co-creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, who I am now willing to accept as a legitimate actor) at the expense of close friends like Facebook’s ground-floor money man Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, a revelation in the kind of naturalistic, understated, lived-in performance that should win Oscars more often).

Believe me, I understand that a Facebook movie starring Justin Timberlake may not seem like the best bet. But never underestimate the all-encompassing power of a master filmmaker like Fincher, who here demonstrates the ability to transform a familiar parable into a truly mind-blowing, generation-defining, visually awe-inspiring piece of social commentary.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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