Some movies, from their opening salvo, project a degree of elegance, intelligence, confidence, and depth that immediately sets them far apart from standard (dare I say pedestrian?) film fare. David Fincher's 'The Social Network' is that rare picture, a movie that instantly stokes our senses and worms its way into our psyches. Forget the Facebook angle; that's just the universal hook that piques our interest. (I mean, who wouldn't be fascinated by the genesis and development of an instrument many of us use multiple times a day?) 'The Social Network,' though, is so much more than a behind-the-scenes look at the neuroses and Machiavellian machinations that transformed a simple communication tool into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Quite simply, it's a great movie - meticulously crafted, supremely executed, a pleasure to watch as well as experience. Very few of us may be able to relate to Mark Zuckerberg's technological skills, off-the-charts intellect, and entrepreneurial savvy, but his personal insecurities and frailties, and those of his friends and enemies, are all too familiar and identifiable to us all. And that's what makes 'The Social Network' hit home.
On its surface, Fincher's film is an absorbing account of the rise of Facebook, and within that framework we witness the building of a mega-company, the explosion of a social phenomenon, and enough corporate maneuvering and manipulation to fill a couple of movies. The director, aided immeasurably by Aaron Sorkin's brilliant script, incisively captures the college culture and social dynamics that inspire Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) to create a rudimentary version of what would eventually evolve into Facebook. Was it all a ploy to get chicks? Did it all stem from deep-seeded misogyny and the objectification of women? For sure, nobility and an altruistic need to improve life as we know it played no part in the networking device's invention, but the film wisely leaves the supreme motivating force behind its creation open for debate.
What's indisputable is that Zuckerberg teams with his Harvard pal Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to build an Internet site that would connect college students and allow them to share their lives and thoughts with a select group of friends. At the same time, he is approached by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played, through the magic of technology, by Armie Hammer), who help fine tune the idea and with whom Mark enters into a casual partnership. Yet the introverted, arrogant Mark, whose own social skills could use some major tweaking, quickly ditches the Winklevoss twins and develops the concept on his own, inciting their outrage as the site begins to spread like wildfire and its potential worth skyrockets. Tension also creeps into Mark's relationship with Eduardo when Zuckerberg falls under the hypnotic influence of the egomaniacal Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who helps Mark take what is now called The Facebook to the next level. But at what cost? When the lawsuits from Mark's disgruntled and hurt former friends and associates begin to pile up, the dollar amounts spiral to potentially astronomical heights.
And that's just the tip of this film's iceberg. Beneath that captivating veneer, what 'The Social Network' is really about are such core human elements as friendship, loyalty, jealousy, snobbery, entitlement, conceit, insecurity, and betrayal. It's about juvenile game-playing in a high-stakes world, and how an outsider looking in becomes a flustered insider who manipulates and is manipulated. All the things that transpire on Facebook - some good, many bad - went into its creation, and with subtlety and an infectious combination of grace and grit, this film depicts it all, wrapped up in a seductive visual style and smoothness of presentation that outclasses most other movies. Much like he did with another masterwork, 'Zodiac,' Fincher immerses us in a specific time and place, and uses his true-life tale to show how events and circumstances change (or don't change) those involved. And he does it invisibly, making us feel like a fly on the wall instead of a patron in a movie theater. When matched with the right story, Fincher has few peers as a director, and 'The Social Network' finds him at the top of his game.
Great movies, however, are ultimately born from great scripts, and Sorkin's should be a shoo-in for an Oscar. While I've always recognized his supreme talent, there have been times in the past when I've felt Sorkin's dialogue has been a bit too erudite and artificial. Not so here. The screenplay for 'The Social Network' is exquisitely constructed, and it's acted to perfection by a fine cast. Eisenberg files a riveting performance as the socially inept Zuckerberg, who's a bona fide asshole, yet frighteningly smart and mercilessly driven. Is he a victim of his own annoying, cryptic personality or a master puppeteer who manipulates every situation to his advantage? Eisenberg keeps us guessing, and that's the beauty of his portrayal. Equally excellent work comes from Garfield, Timberlake, Hammer, and others, all of whom disappear inside their roles and lend this picture an intoxicating air of authenticity.
Whether or not you use Facebook, approve of it, or admonish it, by all means see 'The Social Network.' It's unquestionably one of the best pictures of the year, one that makes us appreciate the art of film, the art of storytelling, and the innumerable and diverse facets of our collective society and individual psyches. It may not be a watershed movie, but it casts a seductive spell and works on a number of different levels, stimulating both our intellect and emotions without feeling pretentious or cloying. Long after Facebook is just another bygone fad, we'll still be looking at and admiring 'The Social Network.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Social Network' two-disc set comes attractively packaged. Once the plastic wrapping is removed, a simple cardboard sheath that displays the film's traditional adwork, cast and crew info, and disc contents falls away to reveal a stark black sleeve with the embossed words "You Don't Get to 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies" burned into its cover. Inside that is a fold out case that houses the two BD-50 dual-layer discs, with Eisenberg's color photo on the front (and the words "Punk, Prophet, Genius, Billionaire, Traitor" emblazoned across it) and a montage of color pics from the film on the back. Upon insertion into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up. Video codec is 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are available in English and French. There's also an English Audio Description track in Dolby Surround for the visually impaired.
'The Social Network' possesses a strong, natural-looking transfer that benefits from excellent clarity and contrast. Warm tones distinguish the image, casting just a hint of a yellowish glow on some scenes. Though digitally shot, the film lacks that sterile, hyper-sharp look that often lends an air of artificiality to some movies. Despite the lack of grain, Fincher somehow manages to evoke a very cozy feel that resembles celluloid and aids our immersion in the story. At times, the picture looks a shade or two darker than normal, but such a style enhances the mood, and makes certain exteriors, such as the rowing sequence, exhibit wonderful pop. Details are never obscured, however, and textures come across well.
Colors remain a tad muted, but still exude solid vibrancy. The office interiors and bland dorms don't offer many opportunities for brilliant hues, and Fincher wisely chooses to leave well enough alone and maintain a utilitarian look that suits the story well. Black levels are especially deep and inky, yet crush is rarely a concern, and whites are nice and bright, pushing the envelope, but never blooming. Contrast is well pitched, so the picture looks clean and sleek, but there's not a high degree of dimensionality. Close-ups are crisp, but won't bowl anyone over.
A slight bit of banding could be detected, but noise is completely absent - quite a feat, considering the dark nature of many scenes - and no enhancements or other detrimental digital issues could be detected. Sony has done a terrific job bringing 'The Social Network' to Blu-ray, and the film's many fans will be quite pleased with this top-drawer transfer.
I must admit I was not expecting much from the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. After all, 'The Social Network' is largely a dialogue driven film, but boy, does this track deliver! From the opening scene in a crowded bar, the audio offers a superior immersive experience that thrusts us into the thick of every situation. The surrounds are in play most of the time, providing essential atmosphere and sonic accents, yet the mix seamlessly integrates them into the whole, so we're never really conscious of them. The dance club scene is especially impressive, distinguished by loud techno music and thumping bass tones (amazingly, my subwoofer got more of a workout from this track than it has from many so-called kick-ass action flicks), yet dialogue is always properly prioritized, and distortion is never an issue.
Dynamic range is superior, with highs maintaining a clear, bright tone, while lows are lush and weighty, adding marvelous depth - both subtle and overt - to many scenes. Dialogue is an essential aspect of this film, and though occasionally we have to strain a bit to catch all the words (and don't always succeed), the lively conversations and heated exchanges are surprisingly easy to understand, especially when taking into account the active backgrounds that are such an essential part of many scenes. Details, whether they be keyboard tapping or footsteps on pavement, are wonderfully distinct, and the music score enjoys fine fidelity and tonal depth.
Rarely does a drama incite this much audio excitement, but 'The Social Network' possesses one of the best soundtracks for this type of film I've ever heard. It's not perfect, but it's darn close.
A wealth of absorbing material adds luster to this two-disc set. Disc One houses the feature, as well as two audio commentaries (described below) and a BD-Live link. The rest of the extras, including a feature-length documentary on the making of 'The Social Network' reside on Disc Two.
The second track features screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, along with cast members Jesse Eisenberg (recorded separately), Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake (also recorded separately), Armie Hammer, and Josh Pence. This one is quite a jovial conversation, filled with lots of camaraderie and good humor. Sorkin and Eisenberg are more cerebral, but the other actors conduct a spirited dialogue, sharing many fun tidbits and entertaining anecdotes about the filming. Both commentaries are worthwhile, and there's not too much overlap between them.
'The Social Network' is one of the finest films of 2010, a probing, fascinating examination of genius and character, business and betrayal. It's sublimely entertaining and brilliantly written and filmed, and this stellar two-disc Blu-ray set provides us with terrific video and audio transfers and excellent supplemental material. This is a movie that stands up well over repeat viewings, and with such quality picture and sound, this Blu-ray set is that rare animal that features both first-class content and presentation. Without question, this is one to own.