There's an old adage that goes: never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And writer Aaron Sorkin, the genius behind The West Wing, has certainly followed that adage to the letter with The Social Network. How much truth is there, really, in this tale of computer whizkid Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook? From what I've read, very little. But that really doesn't matter, for what we have here is an engrossing drama that is easily one of the best films of this year.
If Zuckerberg – wonderfully portrayed here by Eisenberg – is really as big a narcissistic, arrogant arsehole as he's made out if be, would he have been able to build a social networking website that has more than 500 million users around the world, and which has led to him having an estimated personal wealth of almost $7 billion? I don't think so. But that's irrelevant to the story here, which is as good as you'd expect from a writer of Sorkin's calibre. And David Fincher is no slouch in the director's chair, either. Together they've managed to construct a sort-of biopic about a computer programmer that far from being as boring as watching, well, someone writing a computer program, is actually a riveting tale of friendship, ego, business, envy, manipulation, backstabbing and college life. Oh, and computer programming.
Structured around two lawsuits brought by three people who claim they were also involved in the founding of Facebook – Zuckerberg's buddy Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) and Harvard snobs and Olympic rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Hamer) – The Social Network opens with a wonderful scene of the socially-awkward Zuckerberg being dumped by his latest girlfriend. Back in his dorm, after slagging her off on his blog, he creates the girl-comparison site (and HotorNot clone) Facemash – which brings him to the attention of the Harvard faculty, and the Winklevoss brothers, who want him to help them on a website they are bulding, called Harvard Connection. The rest, as they say is history. And a couple of lawsuits.
Eisenberg – until now best known for roles in comedies such as Zombieland and Adventureland (so why didn't they call this Facebookland?) – is pitch-perfect as Zuckerberg. How close is he to the real Zuck? Well, only Zuckerberg himself, who says he's never watched this film, and those close to him know for sure. Eisenberg is all manic energy and mile-a-minute speech, a man with big ideas who is obsessed with computer coding and building a network that will one day reach every person on the planet. It's Oscar-worthy stuff, and I can see Eisenberg easily being nominated for the best actor gong next year – along with Sorkin for the zippy script and Fincher for his flawless direction. The supports are all first rate too, but particular standouts are Garfield, who will soon be donning the Spidey mask for that franchise's reboot, and former boy-band crooner Timberlake. Yes, that Justin Timberlake, who continues to surprise and dazzle as an actor. He was brilliant in both Alpha Dog and Black Snake Moan, and here – as Napster founder Sean Parker, who joins Zuck in his Facebook project – he's nothing short of sensational as the complex, multilayered party boy turned company president. The Social Network may not be firmly rooted in the real world, but it's nothing short of whip smart and eminently watchable.