I finally got around to seeing 'The Social Network' a few nights ago, which is weird because, as a writer myself, I happen to think Aaron Sorkin is just about the best dialogue guy around. Maybe the best, in fact. I sincerely believe 'The West Wing' to be the finest television show in the history of network television.
'The Social Network' is a mean-spirited movie with a singularly unnatractive protagonist in the person of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg and is really quite good. (So far, this review is sounding a bit like some of the reviews I used to get in college: "Bob Jones was good. Mary Smith was also good. Lots of the actors were good.") Eisenberg had a formidable task in front of him, getting very little help from Sorkin's script, in that he had to try and find at least a little humanity in the Machiavellian Zuckerberg as written.
Although he manages to find all that is there. The entire idea that Zuckerberg created Facebook to get back at a girl that unceremoniously dumped him while on a date is implausible at best, but Sorkin being Sorkin almost makes it work.
Director David Fincher makes the film look and sound like an Oliver Stone picture at times. That's not necessarily a compliment, although to be sure Stone has made a few very good films. The film is generally devoid of any kind of manipulative emotion. Personally, I don't mind a good dash of manipulative emotion in film. One of the reasons I happen to be a Spielberg fan.
I had a buddy of mine over the other night for dinner, John Bader. John is one of the few people who's opinion I nearly always respect when it comes to film, television and stage. When I asked him about 'The Social Network,' John said, quite succinctly, "I didn't care for it" and left it at that. I thought it a curiously snippy answer coming from John who can be terribly effusive about his opinions at times.
Once I saw the film I realized why. John, like a lot of us old codgers, has become in his middle years an incurable optimist. 'The Social Network' is one of the least optimistic movies I've seen for quite awhile.
I won't bother you, Gentle Reader, with the old 'inverted triangle' style of writing usually employed when scribbling criticism because nearly everyone has already seen the film and I don't really need to rehash the plot. Suffice to say it's about the creation of Facebook and the trials and tribulations therein.
This movie has all the ingredients of a really hotsy-totsy film: great writing, sharp direction, clear characterization, an unmistakable plot arc, a great score and a fascinating subject. And I couldn't have cared less.
Although Sorkin has written some really fine scripts in the film world (A Few Good Men, The American President) I think his real genius lies in a longer venue. The film lacks nuance. It lacks a sense of truly knowing who these people are. Film, most films I should say, rely on a clear cut definition of good and evil. We like to root for people, for things, for teams. Now, this is not always the case. Scorcese has made a career out of doing the exact opposite. But generally speaking, film relies on the same equation melodrama relies on: bad guys bothering good guys and then getting their come-uppance. It's a formula as old as drama itself.
Justin Timberlake is probably the best thing on the screen in terms of capturing a real person. I've known dozens of people like Timberlakes's Sean Parker in the film; bigshots with about a buck fifty in their pocket. His performance is dead on. And bless his heart, Parker came out of the whole thing with about 7 percent of Facebook in his pocket. By my calculations that would amount to something along the lines of 340 million dollars to date. Not too shabby for a guy who didn't invest a penny.
I'm a big fan of minimalist scoring and 'The Social Network' is a fine example of it. Trent Rezner and Atticus Ross have written a haunting, slight score for the film. It's one of the best things about it, actually.
Like all of Sorkin's work, this piece could easily be a play for the stage. The stage is where Sorkin found his chops and his best work is riddled with precise dialogue and perfectly situated 'beginning, middle and end' scenework. He is a master at the 'martini line,' that is to say the final line in a scene that serves as the exclamation point. Regardless of one's overall feeling for the film, Sorkin's writing is, as always, nearly beyond reproach. He's just so damn good at what he does.
Unfortunately, I just didn't much care this time. A long, winding, detailed story about how billionaires screwed people out of money is not my idea of a satisfying evening. Especially when the people depicted as the ones who actually got screwed are as greedy, uncaring and morally vapid as the ones doing the screwing.
In the final analysis it's a film about bad people doing bad things and getting away with it. My reaction to the film probably says a lot about where I am in my life right now, but I don't care. You could line every character up against a wall and shoot BBs at them and I still wouldn't care. I don't like these people. I didn't care what happened to these people. And, in the last and most telling judgement, these people bored me.
'The Social Network,' two apathetic thumbs down.
See you tomorrow.