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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.54%
Worth A Look31.88%
Average: 13.04%
Pretty Bad: 4.35%
Total Crap: 23.19%

5 reviews, 39 user ratings

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Social Network, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Noxious 'Network'"
1 stars

Absurdly overpraised and dramatically vacant, it's the very opposite of sophisticated moviemaking.

The absolutely dreadful The Social Network is one of those rock-bottom cinematic endeavors that relentlessly pummels you with so much neurasthenic obviousness from start to finish that you come out of the picture unaffected and unsatisfied, and without so much as a single thought going around in your head. Which is a shame, because this docudrama concerning the unscrupulous, backstabbing CEO of the groundbreaking social-interaction Internet site Facebook certainly had potential, but the movie trips itself up by functioning as a pandering-down-to morality play that's hopelessly square. Every single facet is underlined twice and rammed down our throats with a smug sense of all-encompassing knowingness like it's telling us something revelatory when in fact it all it's doing is trotting out a tired array of endless scenes averring that CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of the biggest assholes on the planet, and for some odd reason the moviemakers thought this in itself was enough to justify a two-hour movie. Quite the opposite was true of 2003's superb docudrama Shattered Glass, which detailed the exploits of another cad, The New Republic writer Stephen Glass, who, for this widely-respected political magazine, made up over a dozen catchy stories right out of the thinnest of air; he was eventually found out by recently-promoted editor Chuck Lane, and the movie was entertaining not only because it played out like a detective tale in Lane's gradual uncovering of Glass's well-layered deception, but because both of the characters, one shorn of principles and one absolutely teeming with them, were fascinating to watch. Here, we've got the same attempted dynamic going with Zuckerberg's ultimate betrayal of college friend Eduardo Saverin, who he partnered with to get the site going, only this time there's nary an iota of dynamism. It's flat and too methodically laid out like a Geometry equation, without a single interesting character in either Zuckerberg or Saverin -- they're just wanton, dimensionless figures to move the story along. These two founded Facebook during their sophomore year at Harvard, but, as it turns out, Zuckerberg stole the concept from some fellow students who brought him in to contribute to a similar site they'd been working on. Then, with start-up money supplied by Saverin, their site went live and steadily became a bona-fide success; but after their relationship hit a temporary roadblock, Zuckerberg, at the urging of the conniving founder of the defunct music-download website Napster, Sean Parker (the very definition of an egotist), he began to distance himself from Saverin and soon cut him out of his fair share of the lucrative stock. Eventually Zuckerberg was sued by him and the three Harvard students whose idea he stole, which culminates in a mediation in a conference room with lawyers for all sides, which couldn't be more listless.

In one of many of the movie's many mistakes, in structuring the story as a series of flashbacks leading up Zuckerberg's legal predicament, it shows us that he's screwed over his colleagues from the get-go, so there's little suspense distilled from these, which, especially because they're completely devoid of any semblances of wit and humor, are just dead weight. Maybe if the central character of Zuckerberg had been the least bit interesting it might've been a neat kick seeing him start out as a charming non-jerk we could care about only for him to progress into a callous jerk who we'd be more than glad to distance ourselves from; but the character is completely closed-off and abrasive to start with, so we don't feel anything whatsoever from his moral disintegration. In the very first scene, we witness his insecure self alienate his girlfriend with his resentment of "the final clubs" (a reference to this Ivy League's fraternities) of which he knows he hasn't a prayer of being inducted into; he's the ultimate cynic deploring something not out of righteousness but out of immature jealousy, and he debases his girlfriend by assuming that all she cares about is hooking up with someone from these clubs -- she isn't and is appalled at his insensitivity. The way the movie lays it out, Zuckerberg was always the quintessential prick, and it's this chief flaw -- the lack of a functional dramatic interpretation laid onto the material -- that leaves a giant crater at the center of it. And not helping by any means is Jesse Eisenberg's ineffectual performance as Zuckerberg. The only time I'd seen Eisenberg was in a supporting role as another college nebbish in the dopey Solitary Man just the year before, and he was just as mediocre. Eisenberg's of that depressing Hollywood breed who's being thrust upon us: the just-average twenty-something actor who doesn't do anything particularly bad but not anything particularly good. He's the very definition of "average," like Ralph Macchio was in the '80s and Chris O'Donnell in the '90s. Everything he does is on the surface, and he makes the character way too easy to read; he doesn't have the acting imagination to build the character from within and fill it out with his own set of odds and quirks. Yes, Zuckerberg has been written as one-dimensional, but Eisenberg makes the common actor's mistake of playing him one-dimensionally -- there's not a whisper of originality or variety anywhere in the performance. Of course, the screenwriter has all but neutered the character by suspending him in a weird emotional neutrality throughout, and you just can't figure the reading we're supposed to get on him. Even when Facebook is really starting to take off and becoming hugely influential, the character is unaccountably nonplussed and reticent -- children who win spelling bees have more light in their eyes than this joyless sourpuss.

In Shattered Glass, Glass was a real oily son of a bitch, but he had a wicked devil's smile that let you know he enjoyed manipulating people, that a lot of satisfaction came from his putting loopy articles over on very intelligent people. He had a canned response whenever he was occasionally questioned on the validity of his work -- innocently asking, "Are you made at me? Did I do something wrong?"; and, when a small error was found out, he displayed puppy dog eyes and said, "I'll be happy to resign," which successfully defused the situation (incredibly enough) -- and Hayden Christensen, who was so wooden in the new Star Wars trilogy, obviously had an absolute blast playing him. With Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is just a stiff, and you can't detect anything that gives Zuckerberg pleasure. When he scores a gorgeous Asian chick in the bathroom stall of a nightclub and we see his inexpressiveness afterward, he might as well have just taken out the garbage; he's a solipsistic sad sack who we're not interested in for a second. It's a calamity of an artistic decision that's as detrimental to the movie as Kryptonite was to Superman. It might've helped if the supporting characters were better etched and acted, but they're just as facile and the acting is just as negligible, especially Timberlake's amateurishness as Parker -- he's always "on" and overacting up a storm, as if he were afraid a mere moment of silence and contemplation would expose just what a rotten actor he is. And as Saverin, Zuckerberg's best friend and "conscience," Garfield's pained expressions are indeed a pain to the audience; he does trembling sensitivity to such a bathetic degree that we're not particularly broken-hearted when his character is betrayed later on down the line. He's like a third-rate rendition of the second-rate Orlando Bloom, whereas Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane was an extraordinary piece of work that was hard-edged and very affecting. Even the reliable character-actor John Getz can't get any decent footing going as Zuckerberg's attentive attorney. And the atrocious dialogue by overrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, which always sounds like dialogue and not natural speech two humans would plausibly say to one another, doesn't do anyone any favors ("I meant catching that marlin instead of the fourteen trout. Doesn't that sound good?" "If you're the trout"). It makes you yearn for the evasiveness of Harold Pinter, which is quite the inimical insult, believe me. Saddest of all is director David Fincher's participation. From the talented man who gave us two of the very best movies of the last decade, Se7en and The Game, he's obediently (and disappointingly) serving the material like a standard hack, showing neither verity nor variety -- it's mechanical and just as substandard as his work in his previous docudrama, Zodiac, which also suffered from sluggishness and a forceful point of view.

It's unfathomable what drew Fincher to this assignment, and it is just that -- a rote assignment. After the commercial failure of his trite Benjamin Button he must have thought that to be employable again he needed to take on something a lot of visionary directors like himself would see as a challenge: to make a talking-heads picture with a lot of computer screens and telephone conversations visually expressive, much like Michael Mann accomplished in The Insider. But the visual life is distressingly drab -- in fact, the camera never seems to be in the right place. The movie is stuffy and alarmingly inept, like a Hollywood cynic were enacting revenge on the industry and wanted to make the most unwatchable cinematic endeavor possible. With the magnificent Se7en, Fincher proved himself that rare auteur who didn't needn't have a hand in the screenplay; he brought it to as much hypnotic life as much as any director conceivably could. But, starting with the asinine Panic Room, he took on projects you could just sense didn't have his full commitment; he seemed to be operating on autopilot, diligently serving material but nothing more -- it was akin to witnessing a deeply moral person buy into "compassionate conservatism." Sure, there was the technical proficiency, but from a director of this magnitude it was a sign of the ultimate cop-out -- taking on an assignment just for a big paycheck that in no way, shape or form challenged him to inject his gusto to make a movie startlingly alive. Where's the virtuosity that went into the spectacular foot chase in Se7en, the frightening, unnerving omnipresence of manufactured evil in The Game, the touching emotional resonance between Sigourney Weaver and brief lover Charles Dance in his studio-compromised debut Alien 3, the hilarious social commentary of Edward Norton's materialistic yuppie in Fight Club? Something decidedly deadened Fincher after this to where he no longer saw directing as a passion but as a bottom-line obligation to take a back seat to an array of crummy story ideas that couldn't be more perfunctory. He was there as a hack-for-hire who didn't see past the fourteen-hour workday -- you never got a sense of his even remotely taking his work home with him. With The Social Network, he's never inside the material: he's getting the shots and overseeing the post-production stages but not in a particularly outgoing way. There's no agility to the scene transitions, nothing resembling a through-line that would give the narrative some confidence and fluidity. Every single thing is obvious -- he does boring contrasts of the computer geeks habitually hanging on the Internet, and the cliched machismo-filled fraternity guys who are starting to lose sorority girls who are becoming hooked on Facebook. (Sadly, it's never really conveyed what this site actually means to people who are given the opportunity to connect with people from their present and past.) The movie is overly calculated and remote, and there's not a moment of genuine spontaneity throughout -- the best-selling book the movie is based upon has gained nothing whatsoever from being filmed. And, worse, in an especially embarrassing scene late in the game, a young female lawyer sitting through the mediation tells Mark that he's not a jerk but is trying too hard to be one. But he is a jerk, and for the life of all that's holy you can't figure out why this stinker of a scene is there.

It didn't have to end up like this, for there are two much-superior movies out there that excellently detailed the trials and tribulations involved in founding a successful Internet company and possessed several outstanding dramatic moments: the documentary and the Josh Hartnett-starring August. In the former, two college friends, much like Zuckerburg and Saverin, started an initially successful website, only theirs eventually tanked due to poor management, and the friends wound up turning on each other. But unlike The Social Network we really got to know the two main subjects, and their friendship had real gravitas so when all came crashing and burning around them we felt a sense of loss not only for their failed business venture that they poured innumerable levels of stress and anxiety into but their longtime relationship that got severely tested when things started to go awry. And the director never crowded us like Fincher does -- we were given the proper aesthetic distance to get our own take on things. Coming out of the theatre, you could toss it around whether maybe both friends were to blame, or maybe just one of them, or maybe they did the best they could under such trying circumstances. There were always levels of emotion and tension going on, which gave the proceedings a considerable cumulative force in the end; it may have been a documentary, but it had a purity that many a standardized Hollywood melodrama are simply incapable of achieving. And in the underrated August, Hartnett, usually an acquired taste, gave an atypically dynamite performance as the ultra-conceited, power-hungry inventor of a website founded with his less-flashy, more-imaginative-savvy brother that was the victim of a takeover by David Bowie's corporate raider. In a rather neat touch, we never knew what their bringing-home-the-bacon baby was actually about: we just knew it was an innovative site that was quite the lucrative success. Hartnett's Tom Sterling wasn't any more likeable than Zuckerberg, but at least he was a commanding and captivating screen figure who we grew to at least understand in his obtuse, self-destructive ways -- as he spiraled out of control from not wanting to listen to anybody who had anything even remotely negative to report concerning the company's financial trouble, Hartnett let us see how his character's closed-off-from-reality self steadily depleted the guy's soul and alienated him from those who, with remarkable degrees of patience, still mustered the compassion to care about him. With Zuckerberg, he's vanilla-bland to the point of near-catatonia, and he derives neither joy nor elation from his success, just bottled-up, seething anger with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, and after about twenty-five minutes you wait for the guy to lighten the hell up just a bit. He's like Taxi Driver's socially withdrawn Travis Bickle, but at least Travis finally purged some of his anger and did lighten up. Maybe, after all is said and done, that's what the moviemakers needed to do with Zuckerberg: have this computer geek shoot a vicious pimp as the ultimate catharsis.

Checking your Yahoo! e-mail is more enrapturing.

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originally posted: 01/18/11 07:16:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell very good imho 4 stars
3/05/15 stanley welles a spellbinding and compelling story with great performances and flawless direction 5 stars
8/15/14 Mario is the Best The Cat in the Hat is awesome! This movie is utter GARBAGE!! 1 stars
8/23/11 Annie G I was expecting something that would disappoint, but I was pleasantly surprised. 3 stars
6/05/11 Piz easily readable and more surface play than true intrigue. Still, a decent movie 4 stars
4/21/11 Maya Jewell I loved it. The characterization and dialogue got me. 5 stars
3/21/11 Guido Sanchez Interesting perspective, and while hollow, still captivating (perhaps because of the story) 4 stars
3/19/11 jessica edwards A good film, a little slow though 4 stars
3/13/11 Luis A very good film, would've enjoyed it more with less hype though 4 stars
3/06/11 Judith Ackerman Please mention that last line of the movie - I just want to gag 1 stars
3/03/11 J This review mentions nothing about the 'made up' plot, way to fail at background research 2 stars
2/20/11 RePTaR Interesting angle on the new Internet start up wave, but it lacked real conflict. 4 stars
2/14/11 Alex Gagnon My boyfriend said he thought it was pretty good.. I haven't seen it myself though! 4 stars
2/13/11 mr.mike Much better than I expected. 4 stars
2/12/11 C Lakewood Emotionly disengaging. Have way through thought "I never want to see this movie again." 2 stars
2/08/11 David Chiozza It is a very good film, but I have to say that I believe it to be rather overrated. 4 stars
2/07/11 Joseph Odle Fincher admitted story was hardly true. This film does nothing new for movies at all. 2 stars
1/24/11 Andrew Not engaging at all. It is as flat as soda over a month old. 1 stars
1/24/11 bill norris Timberlake- quite the actor as well. 4 stars
1/22/11 Beverley M Sporck Interesting to follow the beginnings and path of facebook. 4 stars
1/20/11 Martin I enjoyed it. The acting was good. 4 stars
1/16/11 GEORGE B. FEIST Amazing and Jesse at his BEST EVER. Dialogue is over the top 5 stars
1/16/11 facebook sucks fuck facebook 1 stars
10/21/10 Monday Morning Always interesting but with no humanity or emotion - both required for a great story. 4 stars
10/20/10 Justin Probably the most overrated movie I've ever seen. 3 stars
10/19/10 Mike A story superbly told! 5 stars
10/18/10 kc lame and superficial 1 stars
10/16/10 Suzz just a very average film that's seriously over hyped 3 stars
10/14/10 fred Boring Bad acting Over-rated I hated it 1 stars
10/14/10 Yal e Freedman The Social Network is a fascinating look at the creation and legal dilemmas surrounding the 4 stars
10/09/10 turner what's the point about a movie about facebook 1 stars
10/09/10 Sheila B Completley engaging, if you can keep up with the dialogue.Tells a great story w/great music 5 stars
10/07/10 taylor stupid propoganda film (absolutely pointless) 1 stars
10/05/10 millersxing Why didn't Fincher drop the "The" from the title...sooooooooo uncool. 4 stars
10/05/10 Bob Dog Tedious, repetitive, pointless. 1 stars
10/04/10 killer rubbish pointless movie 1 stars
10/04/10 Simon Brilliantly loaded topical film of Sorkin writing nuggets,tho rapid-fire style not for all 5 stars
10/04/10 Mary Mcmurray I liked it. It portrayed Zuckerberg in a bad light but I'm sure he could care less as he lo 4 stars
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  01-Oct-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2011


  DVD: 11-Jan-2011

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