Plowing through Oscar-nominated films for the next few weeks. So it was time to see The Social Network (is that title a pun on The Facebook?). I had avoided it in theaters because it sounded so dull, but the miracle is how much David Fincher does visually with this cliched and overtold story. The pacing and rhythm are beautifully executed, and timed to match both score and plot. Sometimes the film takes it time: as in the detour to England to watch Mark Zuckerberg’s alter egos, the Winkelvoss twins, race in the Henley Regatta.
The scene only serves to inform the twins that Zuckerberg’s Facebook has made it to Europe….a fact the audience already knows. So what is it doing there? It shows us the elite world Zuckerberg rejected in dropping out of Harvard; it shows us a literal race to match the metaphorical races to finish coding and get a product to market; and (paradoxically) those pulling oars slow the film down, briefly, between snatches of frenetic cutting to speeding music. It shows how some races can be so close that they are won almost by chance. This scene does all that while keeping us in almost constant motion with the crew. Their faces heave toward and away from us, as we see the race from every point of view. It works.
Most of the film cuts back and forth between the development of Facebook and the lawsuits it spawned later, when the twins and Eduardo Saverin sued for their contributions to the company. The alternating structure is very effective. It is what makes a suspenseless story about an unlikeable guy into a watchable film. Of course, this is made by David Fincher, who is not only a great storyteller and action director, but also a master stylist. The film has a beautiful quality, with a soft, smeary focus and the reddish-greenish palette of glowing computer screens. Perhaps that is due to using digital video, but perhaps that is just Fincher’s keen eye.
[Speaking of eyes, check out the cool blog post about this film on David Bordwell’s blog….]