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. "The Social Network"

The real hero behind "The Social Network," the story behind the evolution of Facebook, is Aaron Sorkin who, with a screenplay from which flows so much dynamic pacing and acting, elevated what might have been a dry and fatiguing bio-pic into two hours of propulsive and demanding drama. But, despite it being a critical success, there's a reason why its appeal will be limited. Outside of academia and places where computer code is spawned in young and analytic brains the dialogue is very demanding to follow. A Sorkin trademark, as in his "West Wing" TV series.

Already critics are touting it as a candidate for Academy nominations in various categories (Sorkin's adapted screenplay from Ben Mezrich's book, "The Accidental Billionaires" for starters), but it's like critical praise for a fine foreign film. As good as it is, an appreciation for brainwork at its highest levels is pretty much a requirement if you're going to get your money's worth. And you can double that if you know what an algorith or machine language is. To anyone who has trouble with cut and paste the interest in this story may be close to zero.

However, it's more than computer skill that's at issue here. The key to the kingdom of the digital world are those who come up with the new ideas and concepts that revolutionize as billion dollar apps. And, often, as Sorkin's script points out so well, it can turn on one or two key understandings of human motivation or need.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, "The Hunting Party") stands out among his Harvard peers for his superior computer programming skills and an attitude to match. His girl skills, on the other hand suck, as he well demonstrates on a date with Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), the girl who should be his soul mate for all her ability to meet him on his field of verbal battle. But as matched as they are in verbal fencing, the disconnect is on the level of maturity. She dumps him; he goes to his room and savages her on line for all the academic community to read.

This might seem, at first, merely an emotional maturity issue, a way to "get back" and blow off steam. But when it happens to a genius, it could spark a great deal more. Just as great books and pieces of music have been created out of a genius's disappointments, destiny is in the wind for Zuckerberg and millions of people. This is a seminal moment that led to a real world billion dollar enterprise.

Zuckerberg, still seething and looking for self-respect, follows the pathetic verbal attack by resorting to what he does best: writing code. Progamming. The world of the algorithm.

He decides to hack into the Harvard servers where he gains access to the individual campus houses in order to download photos of the college's coeds. With that database, he erects an intranet for his and other campuses with a site he calls Facemash, which invites votes to compare one girl against another on a scale of "hotness." It's male piggishness, for which he's excoriated, but the effect of it, of bringing to everyone's attention what it is he can do, is not to be denied.

It isn't long before his ascending notoriety and dark success brings him an offer he didn't foresee. He's approached by three elite and well-heeled upperclassmen with an idea for a social network site for the Harvard community which they dub "The Harvard Connection." The preppy Winklevoss twins Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, "Spring Breakdown") and Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) think he's the programmer they need to develop a site that will be outstanding.

When he hears the proposal, the "un-elite" Zuckerberg agrees in a somewhat tentative and understated manner. "I'm in," he professes in his famously laconic way, and has to repeat it to make his meaning clear. But, as delighted as he makes his erstwhile partners at that moment, his imagination has been stimulated and he's conceiving ideas beyond (and likely competitive with) theirs. Careful to create his own code without a line taken from theirs, he audaciously produces his own site emphasizing online "friends," calling it "The Facebook," and cuts roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, "Never Let Me Go") in for the seed money and 30%.

Much of the story, in Sorkin's construction, is told as recall and testimony during the legal deposition that results from Zuckerberg's natural tendency to ignore such questions as legalities and rights--even as it applies to people who have, or might have, helped him. The boil-down questions now are, to what extent has he been unethical and how big will be the damages for his blatant indifference?

Though I put Sorkin's work at the top of the list for praise, inseperably attached is director David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Zodiac"), whose work made the film pulse with precision and pacing. The other key to the rapid-fire style of the piece is in the casting.

The prime consideration in choosing actors must have been the marriage between type and the ability to handle campus vocabulary convincingly--and, when called for, at a pitched frenzy without skipping a beat.

Across the board, this cast superbly meets the challenge, starting with Eisenberg's mastery of lingo and attitude but matched by the classy and beautiful Mara. Justin Timberlake (who previously worked with Fincher in "Zodiac") adds a charismatic ruthlessness to the catalytic Sean Parker, the music industry nemesis who devised Napster and who positioned himself to be Zuckerberg's guide through the strategies of developing a hit site and life style to go with it. It was Parker who advised business and marketing novice Zuckerberg to call it, simply, "Facebook," and to re-headquarter his operation in Palo Alto, where the venture capitolists roam the skies of invention.

Douglas Urbanski ("The Contender") turns in a rather delicious scene with more than respectable humor and irony as Harvard's dean Larry Summers suffering a meeting with the complainant twins Winklevoss. Sorkin turns up in a cameo, in which he acquits himself well, and Garfield, a newcomer to me, made me sit up and take notice. Hammer, doing double duty as perfectly matching twins, is flawless in delivering a unique rendition of an iconic campus sterotype with a perfect future in their sights. And, I have to say it because I mean it, everyone else in Fincher's framework has gifts which are brought to a fine point by Fincher's direction.

I do believe that there's no one in this cast who hasn't raised their level of potential and industry awareness by the presence of their talents showcased here.

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The Soundtrack

Tech credits are top level in all departments. On the subject of not skipping a beat, there's the rather large contribution on the music side by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Employing electronics, eerie and modal shifts suggest the emotional journey the film takes--tense and anxious, atmospheric and aggressive.

As for the real people portrayed in the story, one could wonder if Sean Parker's development of Plaxo was inspired along Zuckerberg's lines.

Two hours for this story to unwind did cause some fatigue to set in with the feeling that points made weren't benefitted by repetitive iterations in slightly different settings or contexts. But I was continually impressed by Sorkin's verbal ingenuity. He's always at the top of his game, but obviously in his element with characters who comprise the intelligentsia.

All in all, you could quibble with calling this a masterpiece, but it's certainly a masterwork of the biopic genre. Not that it will appeal to all tastes, but it tells an impressive story in an accomplished way about genius and intellect, the corrupting power of greed and pride, and about paying for poor behavior, intentional or otherwise.

It also does a service in providing insight into an internet entity that arose and grew to have a very wide footprint on global communication--especially when you count in political, international and corporate account holders who are using it in unforeseen and not always altruistic or friendly ways.

As Bob Dylan's music once defined a generation, and as many another artist similarly influenced their time, Facebook does have a lot to say about one way to realize potential in the the medium of the Web and, thus, in the tastes and stylings of the current generation. Zuckerberg, along with his billionaire peers at Google, Microsoft, Apple etc. are showing us the way as they tickle us with the latest possibilities of what may be a very long and productive digital age. House robot, anyone?

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake
as computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg and Napster creator Sean Parker
Lessons in making your first billion.

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