How To Make Money And Alienate People

“The Social Network” director David Fincher isn’t exactly known for his true-life collegiate dramas.  The bulk of his directorial experience is centered around violent cult classics like “Se7en,”  “Fight Club” and “Zodiac,” making him an unconventional choice to direct a film about college nerds gallivanting through the halls of Harvard. But despite his resumé, Fincher — armed with writer Aaron Sorkin’s (“A Few Good Men”) caustic screenplay — has crafted a sharp cultural touchstone, our generation’s “Wall Street,” introducing the 1987 premise of “greed is good” to a 21st-century film about the origins of Facebook.

Chronically unpopular antihero Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is both a scathing social outcast and a brilliant programmer. The 19-year-old’s social leprosy and desire for popularity leads him to enlist the help — and money — of best (read: only) friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).

Together, the two devise Facemash.com, a website that allows peers to rate and compare Harvard girls based on appearance. Facemash generates so much traffic that it crashes Harvard’s servers, drawing the attention of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) and fellow co-ed Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who recruit Zuckerberg to help them program a new site called Harvard Connect. Building on their groundwork Zuckerberg creates the blueprints for thefacebook.com — aided by Napster co-founder Sean Parker’s (Justin Timberlake) determination and Saverin’s financial support. From there, the film follows Zuckerberg’s decline, highlighting legal and personal battles that dog the entrepreneur’s footsteps on his way to the top.

Casting Eisenberg — who typically stars as the sweet and graceless romantic in movies like “Adventureland” and “Zombieland” — as hard-ass Zuckerberg seems like a fatal error, but he slides into the role remarkably well. Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue throughout this journey arms the self-absorbed Zuckerberg with a biting, sarcastic edge as he steps over (and sometimes on) his co-creators with alarming ease. Throughout the legal proceedings, Eisenberg effortlessly shifts from humor to heartbreak, shooting one-liners (“If you were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook”) while harboring the intense loneliness of a Grade-A asshole.

Similar praise goes to Justin Timberlake, who feels right at home in the over-the-top lifestyle of the Napster founder — and no, the irony of casting a pop star as the first major force behind illegal downloading is not lost on anyone. From the first time the gang meets him in a fancy restaurant, Timberlake’s charm makes it clear just why Zuckerberg fell under his spell.

Real-life Zuckerberg has taken great pains to distance himself from “The Social Network.” The billionaire insists that the film is an intricate fictional tapestry crafted by Sorkin — an unsurprising move considering his poor representation. In what seems like a last-ditch effort to save face, Zuckerberg scheduled an appearance on Oprah last week, where he stated his intent to donate $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school system.

But for Fincher and Sorkin — who have crafted a film that explores both the dark side of human nature and the humble beginnings of the world’s biggest social network — Zuckerberg’s rantings are nothing more than the calm before the Oscar storm.

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