Review: 'The Social Network': The Tale of Our Time

PHOTO Justin Timberlake, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in Columbia Pictures "The Social Network."

I'll admit it: I initially scoffed at the idea of a Facebook movie. How riveting could a film about a Web site whose features include a nagging "People You May Know" window and a game based on buying fake farm animals be?

Incredibly, it turns out. "The Social Network," which premieres tonight at the New York Film Festival and opens nationwide Oct. 1, is an epic tour de force about the people behind the site that defines our time. There's backstabbing and betrayal, there's tragedy and triumph. There are heroes, there are villains. "The Social Network" is not simply a movie about a Web site. It is a movie about people and the great lengths to which they go in their quest for power.

Video: Clip from the movie The Social Network.
Justin Timberlake stars in The Social Network

Anyone who has Googled Facebook knows the story: High achieving Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg founds a game-changing social networking site, gets absurdly rich, gets sued. But as James Cameron did with "Titanic," director David Fincher ("Fight Club") and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing") make the movie riveting despite the fact that most people know what happens in the end. Unlike that ocean liner, this ship sails on strong.

Video: Clip from the movie The Social Network.

As Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg offers up a must-see performance. A dead ringer for the mop-haired mogul, Eisenberg inhabits the role of a status-hungry geek-turned-larger-than-life billionaire to perfection. Sorkin's swift hand gives Eisenberg the sniveling, slightly sinister tone of a genius who speaks faster than he thinks and thinks at the speed of light. He's not a run-of-the-mill bookworm. He's an aggressive nerd bent on world domination.

The real-life Zuckerberg has dismissed "The Social Network," based on the book, "The Accidental Billionaires," as a work of fiction. It's no wonder. According to the movie, he's an obsessive workaholic with a borderline personality disorder.

Video: Clip from the movie The Social Network.
Movie clip from "The Social Network"

At the beginning of the movie, Erica Albright, Zuckerberg's soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, played by "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" star Rooney Mara, laments that "dating you is like dating a Stairmaster." Undeterred, Zuckerberg charges on, belittling Albright's Boston University education until she breaks down and breaks up with him.

"You're going to go through life thinking girls won't like you because you're a nerd, and I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that's not true," Albright says. "Girls won't like you because you're an a**hole."

Video: Clips from The Social Network.
Clips from The Social Network

Indeed, for much of "The Social Network," that's exactly what Zuckerberg is. After Albright dumps him, he flames her on his blog, then muses about making a site that compares girls to farm animals. (Ironic that Farmville is one of Facebook's most popular applications, isn't it?)

Later, demanding that his programmers shut out the outside world to further the future of Facebook, he verges on dictatorial, a Machiavelli for the Internet age. In Zuckerberg's mind, the ends justify the means: Losing his girlfriend, enraging his classmates and alienating his best friend turned Facebook co-founder are all necessary steps to gaining power, the prize that Zuckerberg craves.

"The Social Network" isn't all computers and coding. From a production standpoint, it's sumptuous. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor teamed with composer Atticus Ross to create a throbbing soundtrack that infuses drama into sequences that might otherwise be mundane.

Video: The making of The Social Network.
The making of The Social Network

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