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Philly2Philly Reviews 'The Social Network' - One of the year's best

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Where is the “like” button?  Who knew the movie about the evolution of Facebook would be one of the year’s best?

Many people will walk into The Social Network knowing little about Mark 'The Social Network' photo: Columbia PicturesZuckerberg. Many will also leave The Social Network with a much better understanding of this arrogant, manipulative, brilliant anti-hero of our generation. That alone makes this film worth watching.

However, The Social Network doesn’t stop there. There’s brilliant entertainment to go along with its twisted, complex character study. The script is fire, and the direction has never been crisper. This film will easily be remembered come golden statue time early next year.

The movie opens, very appropriately, with a date sequence on the very elite Harvard campus. Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) is out to drinks with his then girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). After insulting her in a variety of unintentional, hurtful ways (She says she has to go home and study. His reply? “Why?... you go to BU”), Erica calls off the relationship and heads home.

Mark, in a fury, runs back to his dorm and blogs a series of nasty entries regarding the breakup. While doing that, he hatches a random idea to put up a website, where students can vote on whether or not they think their peers are attractive, via photos. Think of it as hotornot.com, but exclusive to Harvard. The site explodes overnight, and with over 20,000 views, shuts the college network down.

This naturally makes big headlines, and Mark is sentenced to six months academic probation. The news catches the eye of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, two J. Crew toting jocks who see Mark as the perfect person to help them launch a new website. When they confront him, the pair reveals that they are interested in developing a dating site, but one exclusive only to Harvard students. Mark is immediately game, more than willing to help the Winklevosses bring their idea to fruition. What they don’t know is that the proposition for the dating site has set off 5,000 light bulbs in Mark’s head, giving him the idea to take their concept, and make something bigger, better, and smarter.

Thus, the war begins. After avoiding the Winklevosses for over a month to buy time, Mark develops his own site called theFacebook.com, and makes it live. This news enrages the twins, who cry theft and venture out for blood. Things get even hairier when the site starts growing rapidly, spreading throughout campus, and then to other Boston colleges.

Meanwhile, Mark enlists his best friend Eduardo to become co-chair of the site, because he needs assistance with contacts and money. The two become campus celebrities, and then a coastal phenomenon, but the issue of the site generating money becomes apparent. Eduardo wants to push for advertising, which Mark is strongly against Their rift grows stronger when Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake) enters the picture, the creator of Napster that had to declare bankruptcy after the venture crashed and burned. Eduardo wants no piece of him, yet Mark is intoxicated by Shaun’s fearlessness. Soon, Mark ventures to California to grow the business further, and Shaun indicates global potential for the site, as the divide between him and Eduardo grows.

The Social Network is a series of smooth, well-edited flashbacks, interspersed with current day footage documenting the rise of Mark’s celebrity and the fall of his relationships. In essence, this is the story of all of the parties involved in the creation of Facebook, as told from their accounts. In the present day sequences, both the Winklevosses and Eduardo are suing him for millions, and as they recount the tale, the story unfolds.

Aaron’s Sorkin’s script is pure dynamite in a sense. It crackles with every line of acerbic dialogue, the overabundance of wit literally spilling off the screen. The way in which Sorkin captures Zuckerberg is most astonishing, and the story is so incredibly rich and detailed that it literally captures a movement.

Director David Fincher, who hasn’t done something this light in, well, ever, seems to be having a blast while retaining some of his trademark tension. He keeps the dramatics flowing and the drama intriguing, while creating an impressive sense of atmosphere that the film hinges on. The beautiful use of lighting and camerawork are examples of a true pro in action. He keeps the pace brisk, and even at two hours the film consistently feels absorbing.

Then there is the acting. Eisenberg may have been born to play this role, the performance is that good and certainly oscar-worhty. Sorkin’s script fits him like a glove, and he slips into the many lacerating layers of Zuckerberg’s character with astonishing ease. Elsewhere, Mara impresses as Mark’s previous flame that, strangely, turns out to be his muse and catalyst for launching the Facebook empire. Andrew Garfield, as co-partner Eduardo, brings nice depth and empathy to the good guy role, balancing out Zuckerberg’s brilliant jerk persona.

The Social Network is not only the surprise of the fall, but may just be the one to beat this year. It’s one of those films that captures a moment in culture so vividly that it will a film to be remembered when the world looks back at the social network revolution. Zuckerberg has defined his generation in a way, and its fitting The Social Network is the film that defines it as well.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Photos: Columbia Pictures