NEW YORK (CBS) Whether this film is an actual biopic of how the world's largest social engine came to be, or a work of complete fiction depends on whom you ask.
It's probably safe to say "The Social Network" isn't a film Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is about to rush out and encourage people to see. It doesn't matter.
This complex drama stylishly captures a defining moment within a generation that is unprecedented in its connectedness.
Ironically, for the subject it seeks to vitiate, the film has already received 37,000 recommendations from Facebook users all over the globe and anticipation over director David Fincher's scathing, quirky portrayal of the genius and his brand has been growing for months.
It has already generated wide critical acclaim, as well as serious Oscar buzz.
Jesse Eisenberg is mesmerizing as the socially inept, hyper boy genius, charging full throttle ahead from the get-go. The film opens in 2003, with Mark sitting across from his girlfriend, Erica, (Rooney Mara) . They are engaged in a verbal attack on one another that serves as flashes of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's brilliant writing.
The two break up, and in a state of drunken retaliation, Mark blogs negatively about her to the Harvard community, then goes on to launch a nasty attack on all the women at Harvard, hacking their pictures and posting them for fellow Harvard students to rank. It is in this drunken stupor that the seeds of Facebook - currently with a 500-million-strong user base - was sown.
Fincher and Sorkin move through the mechanics of how the media site gets up and running speedily enough, while simultaneously taking the audience through subsequent settlement proceedings for charges filed against Zuckerberg by Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss brothers.
A fellow student, Saverin is one of the site's co-founders and Zuckerberg's only financier in the beginning. The Winklevoss brothers claim Zuckerberg got the idea for Facebook from a site they asked him to help them and fellow student Divya Narendra develop, while studying at Harvard.
The story, based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich, is a narrative of feelings of betrayal, lies, and the price one is willing to pay to achieve unparalleled success.
Eisenberg meticulously captures perpetual shifts in his character's persona, making him appear at times aloof, at times calculating and at times vindictive of even his closest friends. Above all, he persuades us to believe that Zuckerberg is always light-years ahead of anyone else in the room.
Andrew Garfield turns in a strong performance as Zuckerberg's one and only true friend and business partner, who looks past the onerous behavior he is subjected to, only to find his loyalty rewarded by backstabbing.
The hurt he projects at being dismissed by Zuckerberg and his new, sleazy business partner Sean Parker, ably portrayed by Justin Timberlake in his first significant dramatic role, is all too real and forms the core of the conflict within the film.
The biggest criticism thus far on Sorkin's telling is that it is one-sided. Zuckerberg dismisses the film as a work of "fiction" and according to an interview he did with Diane Sawyer earlier in the summer, says the truth about how the company reached the surreal heights it did in reality "is pretty boring".
Also nagging are the questions the film leaves unanswered. What were Zuckerberg's real feelings towards Saverin and Parker, and what really was behind his motive to oust Saverin from the company he helped create?
It's unlikely that the less-than-sympathetic, sometimes cold-blooded picture painted of Zuckerberg will do any personal harm to his image, or to his empire, valued at an estimated $23 billion. In fact, some could argue that the film will turn Zuckerberg into something of an icon, an anti-hero, whose razor-sharp acumen is something tech geeks will aspire to.
Zuckerberg may be to Silicon Valley what the fictional Gordon Gekko was to traders on Wall Street.
Nevertheless, his announcement today on Oprah of a $100 million dollar donation to Newark public schools may be a cleverly thought out PR move to try to enhance his image, before the film is set to premiere tonight at the prestigious 48th annual New York Film Festival. It will open nationwide next week.
"The question is: Should the measure of success for this film be correlated to whether more or fewer people watch it around the world, compared to the number of users the creator has notched up since Facebook's inception?
If so, Zuckerberg just may have the last laugh.