It's not a good day for Mark Zuckerberg. Shoot, it probably hasn't been a good couple of weeks for Zuckerberg. Sure, it's hard to complain when you're 26 and a billionaire, but when a major motion picture is opening the prestigious New York Film Festival that spotlights some mistakes from your very young life, well, that's never a good thing. Oh, and even after attempting some pre-release public relations damage control by making a major donation to Newark schools and appearing on Oprah, Facebook was down for a good chunk of Thursday (worst crash in four years). And, as you'll learn if and when you see "The Social Network," nothing frustrates Zuckerberg more than when his site is down.
Expertly directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing") from Ben Mezrich's novel "The Accidental Billionaires," "Network" chronicles the origins of the world's largest social networking site from a Harvard dorm room in 2004. Initially created by programmer Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and business major Eduardo Saverin (a strong Andrew Garfield), The Facebook, as it was first called, became an online phenomenon in a matter of weeks by initially fixating on people's hunger to be part of an "exclusive" club. After initially growing at an amazing pace on their own, the film recounts how former Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) helped spur the divide between Zuckerberg and Saverin (at one time best friends) that lead to a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Much of the historical details are taken from depositions in two separate lawsuits between Zuckerberg, Saverin and a third group (Divya Narendra and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss) who had hired Zuckerberg to work on their own social network idea before The Facebook launched. That means most of what audiences will see on screen is arguably true, but there are scenes (the already notorious cocaine on a college student's stomach moment for example) and characters (Rooney Mara's fine turn as Erica Albright, a supposed girlfriend of Zuckerberg's who doesn't exist) that are completely fictional (something Zuckerberg alluded to during his appearance with Ms. Winfrey). And at times, that is troubling. At least for this pundit.
Upon immediate viewing, "Network" is a very, very good movie with steadfast direction from Fincher that allows for Sorkin's witty and intense dialogue play out naturally. Overall there isn't a bad performance in the film and technical credits are stellar with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score somewhat of a surprise revelation (although you wish it didn't disappear so much in the third act). Some critics have gone a bit overboard and said "Network" is the defining movie of the internet generation. That gives the picture a grander plate than it's actually serving up. "Network" is actually a much smaller film about what goes wrong when the need for power, fame and glory get in the way of being loyal to your friends and doing what's right. It's an age old story that isn't limited to just the millennial generation which is why it's so powerful. In fact, the only thing that keeps the film from reaching true greatness is it's intent to create sympathy for it's anti-hero at the last minute.
For a majority of "Network," Zuckerberg is depicted as the cocky jerk he's often made himself out to be in the press. And, it doesn't help that much of his testimony in the two cases prove that point. As the picture goes on, however, his positive attributes seem to be limited to only his programming nohow. He clearly screws over the Winklevosses and he most certainly knows he's setting his "best friend" Saverin up for a mammoth fall. It's one thing to be young, it's another to treat a billion dollar enterprise as a petty revenge machine and that's how "Network" characterizes Zuckerberg for much of the story. That is, until the end, when it wants you to have sympathy for him. See, he's just a guy who wanted to be popular, who never had many friends and is still pining for that one girl.
It's worth noting there is a scene where Bill Gates, no slouch at being accused of screwing over former business partners himself, gives a lecture at Harvard to inspire a younger generation just as The Facebook is starting to gain traction. The irony being the movie makes Gates' actions look like those of a petty thief compared to how it portrays Zuckerberg. And that's what's troubling about this impressive piece of filmmaking. It's not that the picture's intended turn in the last few minutes makes you feel sympathy for the entrepreneur, but how he's bombarded by the filmmakers the rest of the picture which makes you slowly think, "Could this kid really be that bad or that dumb? Are we getting the complete story here?" This pundit will certainly see the picture again to see if that troubling feeling sticks or not.
Nevertheless, as early reports have indicated, "Network" is set to be embraced by most critics and pre-release polling have it opening at least in the $20 million range, possibly higher. Both should only solidify the picture's standing among the Academy where it should be a favorite of the rapidly growing younger membership (and by that we mean under 50…). With that in mind, here's a breakdown of how "The Social Network" should fare in the major categories at this early stage of the campaign.
It's in, but it's definitely not the frontrunner. Not yet (and most consultants would cringe if their picture was given that label at this point anyway).
Best Actor - Jesse Eisenberg
It's possible, but I'm not sure this is as much a slam dunk as others believe. James Franco, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Aaron Eckhart, Mark Wahlberg, Javier Bardem and Leonardo DiCaprio will all be strong competitors.
Best Supporting Actor - Andrew Garfield
A breakout turn for most in the Academy. Would be a big surprise if he didn't make it.
Best Supporting Actor - Justin Timberlake
Wildcard, but highly doubtful. Timberlake is very good, but the role isn't that difficult. Still, stranger things have happened.
Best Supporting Actress - Rooney Mara
Mara is superb in her two scenes in the film, but she may suffer from lack of screen time in what is a reasonably competitive field this season.
Best Director - David Fincher
Absolutely has a very good chance of receiving his second nod.
Best Adapted Screenplay - Aaron Sorkin
The biggest lock of all for the picture. It's in on the dialogue alone.
Best Cinematography - Jeff Cronenweth
Up to Fincher's high standards. Excellent shot.
Best Original Score - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
A tad unconventional for the Academy, but they have surprised before. We're rooting for this one.
Best Editing - Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Big surprise if it didn't land here.
Some great work here. Don't be shocked if it lands a slot in either sound category.
To get a taste of "The Social Network" yourself, check out these five clips .
We're ranking girls
Saverin helps Zuckerberg come up with a formula to rank girls online.
Relationship status inspiration
Zuckerberg gets a 7th wind before launching The Facebook.
Sean Parker founded Napster
A Stanford student discovers her trick from the night before is the former founder of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).
Getting there first is everything
Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) tries to convince the Winklevosses they can't wait any longer with litigation against Zuckerberg.
Not enough road, but they have Facebook
One of Zuckerberg's lawyers (Rashida Jones) tries to connect with her work-focused client.
"The Social Network" opens nationwide on Oct. 3.
What are your expectations for "The Social Network"? Share your thoughts below.