Scott Foundas steps forward with a hugely enthusiastic review for The Social Network in Film Comment.
This is very rich material for a movie on such timeless subjects as power and privilege, and such intrinsically 21st-century ones as the migration of society itself from the real to the virtual sphere‚Äîand David Fincher‚Äôs The Social Network is big and brash and brilliant enough to encompass them all. It is nominally the story of the founding of Facebook, yes, and how something that began among friends quickly descended into acrimony and litigation once billions of dollars were at stake. But just as All the President‚Äôs Men‚Äîa seminal film for Fincher and a huge influence on his Zodiac‚Äîwas less interested by the Watergate case than by its zeitgeist-altering ripples, so too is The Social Network devoted to larger patterns of meaning. It is a movie that sees how any social microcosm, if viewed from the proper angle, is no different from another‚Äîthus the seemingly hermetic codes of Harvard University become the foundation for a global online community that is itself but a reflection of the all-encompassing high-school cafeteria from which we can never escape. And it owes something to The Great Gatsby, too, in its portrait of a self-made outsider marking his territory in the WASP jungle.
Adapted by The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin from Ben Mezrich‚Äôs nonfiction best-seller The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network was one of those ‚Äúbuzz‚Äù scripts that seemed to be on everyone‚Äôs lips in Hollywood for the past couple of years, and it‚Äôs easy to understand why. The writing is razor-sharp and rarely makes a wrong step, compressing a time-shifting, multi-character narrative into two lean hours, and, perhaps most impressively, digests its big ideas into the kind of rapid-fire yet plausible dialogue that sounds like what hyper computer geeks might actually say (or at least wish they did): Quentin Tarantino crossed with Bill Gates…
I hasten to add that The Social Network is splendid entertainment from a master storyteller, packed with energetic incident and surprising performances (not least from Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, who‚Äôs like Zuckerberg‚Äôs flamboyant, West Coast id). It is a movie of people typing in front of computer screens and talking in rooms that is as suspenseful as any more obvious thriller. But this is also social commentary so perceptive that it may be regarded by future generations the way we now look to Gatsby for its acute distillation of Jazz Age decadence. There is, in all of Fincher‚Äôs work, an outsider‚Äôs restlessness that chafes at the intractable rules of ‚Äúpolite‚Äù society and naturally aligns itself with characters like the journalist refusing to abandon the case in Zodiac and Edward Norton‚Äôs modern-day Dr. Jekyll in Fight Club. (It is also, I would argue, what makes the undying-love mawkishness of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seem particularly insincere.) So The Social Network offers a despairing snapshot of society at the dawn of the 21st century, so advanced, so ‚Äúconnected,‚Äù yet so closed and constrained by all the centuries-old prejudices and preconceptions about how our heroes and villains are supposed to look, sound, and act.