In lesser hands, “the Facebook movie” could have been a disaster. Hollywood and the internet have a less than stellar common history, tending to fall back on technobabble and fancy graphics in place of what is often a less-than glamourous reality.
The story of Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire creator of Facebook defies this convention; neither coming of age movie, nor a nerd-gets-the-girl schmaltz. While Facebook itself may thrive on the trivial and banal, its genesis is presented as anything but.
Rife with obsession, deception and cut-throat business practise it’s the simple story of Zuckerberg’s geek ascendancy, with Fincher’s utterly confident direction capably turning potential stodge into a series of compelling encounters that never once patronise or downplay.
Set largely on the grounds of Harvard University the film, based on Ben Mezrich’s book, "The Accidental Billionaires" depicts a world of privilege and expectation, where twenty-something tech millionaires rub shoulders with sons of senators and business giants, to a backdrop of exclusive parties and youthful excess.
These young upstarts are not pioneers like their IBM and Microsoft predecessors, they know how to play the game, they understand the risk and rewards and are willing to be ruthless and cynical to get there, and the film is unafraid of presenting this without the need to judge.
The production’s well-placed confidence extends to the script. Characters rattle off lines of code and mathematical formulae and cite programming languages with furious abandon; Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are unafraid of alienating their audience, a choice which extends to the characters. The Harvard set are privileged and status-obsessed, the young millionaires ruthless and cockily entitled, the film’s few women either groupies or vengeful exes, while Zuckerberg in particular comes across almost wholly unsympathetic in his drive and willful disregard of friends and ethics.
While its veracity is unclear (Zuckerberg himself has commented that at the very least they got his clothes right) if The Social Network is not how Facebook was created then it really should have been. All at once funny, sad and never less than breathlessly compulsive it’s a non-preachy look at life on the cutting edge of modern-day zeitgeist and the lengths those there will take to hang on.
The Social Network is myth-making modern Randian heroics at their very best. Near-faultless film-making delivers a compelling look at what beats at the dark heart of the modern tech landscape.