Feb 24, 2011

[Spoiler Alert] Best Picture Nominees #9: The Social Network

Everyone's Friend, Everyone's Enemy
The two films that lead the pack in this year's Oscar race are The King's Speech and The Social Network.  Both films have won numerous Best Picture awards, with The Social Network winning big at the Golden Globes and The King's Speech predictably kicking ass at this year's BAFTAs. The great thing about the films is that they are so vastly different, and occupy almost diametrically opposite ends of the film spectrum.

The Social Network succeeds mostly due to a cracker-jack script and brilliant direction. Aaron Sorkin creates a rich dialogue that is packed full of dense exposition that
paradoxically sounds completely natural and perfectly stylized. Sorkin excels at writing characters that are smarter and wittier than, to borrow a phrase from the other Justin Timberlake movie of 2010, the 'average bear.' Often, his character's are too smart for their own good, like Annette Bening's Sydney Ellen Wade in The American President or any number of characters from The West Wing, most notably Toby Ziegler. It's no surprise, then, that his characters here, like the Winklevoss twins and Mark Zuckerberg, are no less nuanced and actualized. This universe that he has created is one of zippy dialogue and fast-paced betrayal, and it's a lot of fun to watch.

A Man Alone

David Fincher's direction is the perfect companion to Sorkin's writing, and the style with which he pulls off the material is astounding. Fincher is a director known for his inventive use of the camera and beautifully shot scenes, and here is no exception. He does occasionally over-saturate his scenes with examples of excess and debauchery that distract from what's actually happening to the characters, but it doesn't hurt the film too much. Fincher has a way of making even the most mundane scenes crackle with intensity. In The Social Network, there are multiple scenes that read on paper as boring: board room meetings, endless scenes of depositions, and people rowing crew. Yet somehow, through it all, people can't look away.

Fincher also employs an inventive use of CGI with his filming of the Winklevoss twins. Similar to his de-aging of Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the work here is practically seamless, due to rigorous editing, a great dual performance by Armie Hammer, and a great understanding of direction. It's baffling how perfect it looks (maybe in a few years we'll look back an laugh at how crude it is, but nobody's laughing now).

The film deals in shades of grey, and not many of the characters come our of the movie unscathed.  Zuckerberg is hurt most, probably, but the Winklevoss twins and other character come off as pretty big a-holes.  Really, the only sympathetic character is sad-sack Eduardo Saverin (played by future Spiderman Andrew Garfield), but he's also the character that feels the least complete. He's at time menacing, at times bewildered, at times exasperated and angry and often for seemingly little reason. More than anyone else in the film, he exists as a device to move the plot along. When the script stalls, Saverin has a moment of revelation or a moment of angst right on cue. He there to keep things going.

If The Social Network wins Best Picture it would not be a Crash-like miscarriage of justice. It's inventive, clever, and everything else you want in a movie, but it doesn't leave much of a mark after you leave the theater. Movies don't have to have a clear message to succeed, but this film may leave people with absolutely no feeling at all.  It's a fine film, but ultimately pretty forgettable.

Good Movie: Yes
Pest Picture: Sure, why not.
Score: 8.5/10
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