***originally written 21 October 2010***
“Is there a land speed record for talking?” one character asks somewhere in the middle of this movie. No kidding. The Social Network is the latest movie from director David Fincher, from a script by celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has made a name for himself writing dense, talky and rather sentimental drama. Fincher has made a name for himself in moody, dark, oppressive films. The kind of films in which serial killers get away with murder. The meeting of the two seemed a little bizarre. The idea of them coming together to make a film about Facebook? I was a little appalled at the idea. Would you get John Carpenter to direct Bambi?
Nevertheless I’ve stayed the course with David Fincher, who has made a remarkable career yo-yoing from masterpieces (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) to tamer place-holders (The Game, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). If you follow the pattern of these movies, it would make sense for The Social Network to be his next ‘great’ movie. I was nervous. But then the reviews started coming out. Praise through the rafters. Then there was word of mouth. All very promising. Then I went to see this piece of garbage.
That’s unfair. There are many good things about The Social Network. It’s lit beautifully. Trent Reznor does a first class job with the score. And it’s surely Justin Timberlake’s coming-out party as a credible and charismatic actor. …that’s it.
My main fear was that there was no dramatic story here. That it would be two hours of people writing code and giving depositions. This is after all the tale of computer programmers who were best friends, made/stole an idea for a website, fell out, and got entangled in a lawsuit against each other. Guess what? The Social Network is two hours of people writing code and giving depositions. Or talking about it. Talking. Talking. Talking.
The opening scene had me struggling. The conversation was borderline incomprehensible as Sorkin did his best to impress me. Sorkin has always been a gifted writer, and I am an outspoken fan of The West Wing, especially it’s first four seasons where Sorkin basically wrote everything. But even toward the end of that run there was a sense that every character was speaking with the same voice. Sorkin’s voice. The show only became a show about politics in it’s fifth year. Before that it was a show about speech writing. Sorkin is a master of auditory. Diction. Cadance. The way in which you can make words flow so that they create music.
But as his career has progressed he has become increasingly idiosyncratic. This was evident in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but it is a pronounced problem in The Social Network. Everybody sounds the same. The script is smart but it’s not realistic. Nobody talks like this. And the better Sorkin gets at writing these rat-a-tat conversations, the less convincing they sound. In a movie about people warring over their egos, the biggest ego is Sorkin’s. It’s tiresome to listen to. These actors are supposed to be playing people, not smart-alec soapboxes. It dogs pretty much every single scene. Yes, it’s clever, but I’d rather it was real. It actually becomes annoying from that very first conversation.
The actors do good work. Jesse Eisenberg is fine as Mark Zuckerberg. He portrays him as an elitist prick very well. Andrew Garfield is fine as Eduardo Saverin. He portrays him as a whiny elitist prick very well. Arnie Hammer is fine as the Winklevoss twins, who dispute intellectual ownership of the Facebook idea. He portrays comedic-relief elitist pricks very well too. But that’s all you’re going to get here. A lot of elitist pricks fighting over who thought of what. There’s literally nobody to like or particularly root for in this movie. Catfights in dorm rooms and boardrooms. That’s what The Social Network is.
The only reason not to close your eyes (you’d still understand the movie completely this way, by the way) is that David Fincher is directing it. He has an eye for a beautiful shot or selection of shots. When the film moves briefly to England he creates a delightful little montage of a rowing competition. In short he makes the best out of the little wriggle room the script appears to give him. The rest of the film is beautifully shot coverage of elitist pricks talking. Talking. Talking. Annoyingly.
The movie ends.
Fincher’s broken pattern and missed greatness for a second time in a row. To his credit he does the best he can here, but I’m a little amazed he even decided to make it.