That there would eventually be a "Facebook movie" has been a foregone conclusion for quite some time.
But the pleasant surprise is that this attempt at it, definitive or not, turns out to be gloriously brainy and sensationally engaging.
The Social Network is about the emergence of Facebook, the world's largest virtual community, but is not about the technology behind it or its effect on us.
And it's only incidentally about friends and isn't about photos or faces at all. Rather, it's about the conflicts that occurred as the Facebook phenomenon developed into an empire.
This is an in-your-facebook portrait of inscrutable founder Mark Zuckerberg (played in a career-defining role by Zombieland, Adventureland, and The Squid and the Whale's Jesse Eisenberg, at right in photo), the 26-year-old billionaire -- reportedly the youngest ever -- who started the site in his dorm room at Harvard that eventuated into the Internet behemoth it is today.
Along the way, there were all kinds of ethical compromises and outrages.
Eduardo Saverin, for example (played by Andrew Garfield) was a friend who cofounded -- and bankrolled -- the enterprise with Zuckerberg and later claimed that he was unconscionably forced out of the company.
And twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer, Jack Pense, and some inventive special effects) accused Zuckerberg of flat-out stealing their original idea for a social networking site.
Both injured parties initiated lawsuits which would be privately settled and then written about in the 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, upon which screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (TV's "The West Wing"), devoted to storytelling truth rather than documented fact, based his razor-sharp, richly detailed, smartly fictionalized, Rashomon-like script, with its multiple perspectives on the truth based on two dramatized depositions.
Justin Timberlake (at left in photo) is also prominently involved, playing the co-founder of Napster, Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley mover and shaker whom Zuckerberg idolized and who introduced him to the fast lane, then jumped aboard the moving Facebook train.
Director David Fincher (Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club, Seven) creates a benchmark classic by bouncing back and forth in time after starting off with a breakup scene involving antihero Zuckerberg in which a Boston University undergrad played by Rooney Mara dumps him in a way that will motivate him to turn "friend" into a verb and never fail at anything again.
And Fincher directs his actors to lightning-fast readings of Sorkin's gloriously wordy dialogue in a way that fits marvelously with his kinetic camera coverage.
This movie moves. It may not be a thriller, but it's thrilling anyway.
The well-cast Eisenberg is fine as the driven, conflicted hero/villain with no people skills whose background we're not privy to, who isn't conventionally likable, and who doesn't exactly connect with people, and Timberlake stands out vividly as opportunistic Parker.
But it's Andrew Garfield (the next "Spiderman," by the way) who's spectacular as the seemingly wronged partner and benefactor.
This stirring exploration of the legal and personal repercussions of the flowering of Facebook offers itself as a time-capsule glimpse of the cyberspace generation and a timeless fable about greed, ambition, and betrayal.
But if, as a chronicle of and for our times, it's a "docudrama" for the digital age, it's a lot more drama than docu, with the drama, however embellished it might be, taking precedence over the docu at every step that matters.
So we'll hack 4 stars out of 4 for a richly resonant, invigoratingly intense, fitfully funny, and mesmerizing movie that matters, one that speeds along energetically, like an inspired Internet surfing session, and fascinates us as we face Facebook.
Surrounded by friends, whether real or virtual, you'll be gripped and stimulated and entertained by The Social Network.
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