Review in a Hurry: It's ironic that only a week after Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel came out, The Social Network schools the old man by absolutely nailing the new generation of rich jerkwads, in this hip and savvy look at the life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).
The Bigger Picture: Admit it, when you heard somebody was making a movie about Facebook, you probably groaned, right? Made some kind of reference to how there needed to be a "Dislike" button you could click? Then when they announced that David Fincher would direct and Aaron Sorkin script, perhaps you had some second thoughts...but still have yet to be won over by those billboards of Eisenberg's scowling face.
Rest assured, this is trademark Sorkin and Fincher all the way, and the only reason not to see the movie is if you already hit the mental dislike button on those two a long time ago. Yes, Fincher misstepped with Benjamin Button, but remember, biopics tend to work better when they're about real people rather than fictionalized saintly figures.
Using the ultra-crisp cinematography afforded by the Red camera, and his trademark darkness and shadows, Fincher follows the progress of Zuckerberg—an antisocial prodigy who can't stop being a smartmouth even when it guarantees him trouble. He goes from the Harvard dorm where he expands upon various existing ideas to create a unifying Facebook, to the heights of success, where he inevitably loses friends and encounters lawsuits from everyone he might conceivably have ripped off in the process.
Two of these cases—one brought by former best friend and CBO Eduardo Saverin (future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield), and the other by elitist rowing championship twins (Armie Hammer, excellent in both roles), who arguably inspired Zuckerberg early on—frame the flashback action of the film.
The movie's title, especially in that familiar font, is meant to refer to Zuckerberg's famous creation, but it also indirectly refers to the various social networks people travel in at different stages, from the elite clubs at Harvard to the business alliances one makes and breaks later on. Napster cofounder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) proves instrumental in the latter.
And while some have been skeptical about Timberlake, both haters and fans should appreciate him here: The naysayers can boo him as he plays a despicable character, while supporters can admire the extent to which he's gleefully willing to subvert his own media image.
What will be difficult for some viewers, and likely Academy voters as well, is that The Social Network doesn't really offer anybody to root for. Though there's a forced attempt at a grace note near the movie's end, Zuckerberg as depicted here is not a guy you'd ever want to be friends with, and most of the folks he has run-ins with are even worse; his lack of pretension relative to them is refreshing, but doesn't necessarily make him more likable.
It's a compelling tale regardless, but viewers who prefer clear heroes and villains in their tales might leave dissatisfied.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Sorkin's stereotypical snappy banter, while not overrunning the movie, does dominate at least three key scenes (including the opening). While entertaining, it does draw attention to itself as less-than-realistic.