Historical films come in all varieties.
Some try to more-or-less faithfully depict long-gone historical figures with
the significant events of their lives, like "Elizabeth." Some take
historical figures and put them in a more fictionalized story, like
"Shakespeare in Love." Some place fictional characters against a
recognizably historic backdrop, like "Gone With the Wind." Some blend both
historical and fictional elements, like "Ragtime." Some speculate about what
might have happened, like "JFK" and similar conspiracy theorist films.
But when a biographical story is
current -- especially a story that is still ongoing -- audiences expect a
higher dedication to accuracy. And in that sense, "The Social Network"
probably fails. Only one person involved in the founding of the company,
Eduardo Saverin, was involved in the original book "The Accidental
Billionaires," and in Aaron Sorkin's subsequent screenplay. But despite the
inaccuracies, the film is nevertheless a brilliant character study and a
collection of truly brilliant performances.
Jesse Eisenberg stars with his most
significant role to date, finally breaking out of the hapless teenager roles
dominated by Michael Cera. He portrays Zuckerberg as somewhat petulant,
snide, aloof yet quietly passionate, all with an economy of words and the
most subtle of facial changes. The minority of critics who have felt that
the character was a little two-dimensional need to see this film again to
watch for subtle depths that Eisenberg instills in his portrayal.
Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's best
friend and company co-founder Eduardo Saverin also delivers a tremendous
performance, albeit one not forced to be so restrained. And restraint was
clearly out the window for Justin Timberlake's delightful performance of the
flashy Sean Parker, the founder of Napster who wiggled his way into the
company -- and Saverin out -- before himself being forced to resign after
being arrested for cocaine possession with an under-21 year old girl.
Is it historically accurate? Some of it, at least, is
probably not. Much emphasis, probably too much, is placed on Zuckerberg's
reaction to getting dumped by his girlfriend. His initial reaction is no
doubt accurate -- the blog entries Zuckerberg wrote about it were included
in court deposition transcripts with Saverin and the Winklevoss twins were
separately suing him. But Zuckerberg had already met another woman even
before TheFacebook launched, and they were dating not long after the company
moved to Palo Alto, perhaps already living together by the time the lawsuits
occurred. (They remain together to this day.) To suggest that Zuckerberg
ended up lonely, dateless and friendless, is an overstatement. Did he plant
negative stories about Saverin? Did he set up Parker with the cocaine bust?
Did he steal the idea and concepts for Facebook from the Winklevoss
brothers? The film, to its credit, raises the speculations made by
Zuckerberg's critics without trying to answer them.
Of course, the film doesn't go into much about Facebook's
present issues itself -- breaking away from its college exclusivity, finally
embracing an advertising-supported financial model, or the controversial
privacy issues the company has faced. Nor should it. The story is about the
people who founded the company, their relationships. And those relationships
reached the end of their story arc with the lawsuits and financial
settlements. As a character study and as an example of truly brilliant
acting, the film is worthy of the acclaim and the awards being bestowed upon
My grade: A