Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is the smartest guy in the room. He used to be the smartest "kid" in the room, though he aged out of that. Kind of.
But the questions posited by David Fincher's brilliant film, "The Social Network," scripted by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin, are why anyone would want to be that smart, and just what Zuckerberg's brand of brilliance gets him.
The first answer is the same reason guys become athletes or rock stars — to meet women. And the second is more intriguing. Zuckerberg, stunningly interpreted by Jesse Eisenberg, is an unfiltered genius — manic, compulsive, unable to censor an unkind word, unwilling to let go of an idea until he has mastered it, unable to pause even long enough for commas when he's trying to stop his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) from breaking up with him in the film's killer 5-minute opening scene.
As we watch the tale of the founding of Facebook unfold — told through flashbacks at court depositions, Harvard ethics hearings and the like — we feel awful for this witheringly smart Harvard boy who traffics so easily in the condescending put-down. "Creation myths need a devil," a sympathetic lawyer assures him. And Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is just that, a devil obsessed with details and not shy — not in the least — when it comes to anything or anyone that stands in the way of his "cool" idea.
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Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," TV's "The West Wing") didn't have to sex up Ben Mezrich's book about the devious, duplicitous and beer-fueled founding of this runaway social media phenomenon. But he did spice up the snappy patter, giving everybody in this small, elite circle sharp, polished things to say.
"That guy doesn't have three friends to rub together to make a fourth."
As one and all in the story embrace the notion that "getting there first is everything" on the Internet, Sorkin and Fincher ("Zodiac," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") let us get there first from time to time. In mid-creation, a friend asks Zuckerberg about a coed he knows and wants to know if she's seeing anybody. Since he's decided that "The Facebook," as it was called back in that snowy winter of 2004, is the ultimate campus social scene, that's one piece of information the site can't be without. We're way ahead of Zuckerberg as he sprints back to his laptop for a tweaking.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, one of the few people to hang with nerdy Zuckerberg at Harvard. Saverin comes from money, has connections and even the possibility of getting into a prestigious "Final Club" on campus. Some day, you figure, Zuckerberg will make him pay for that. Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (with camera tricks that make Hammer appear as both) are the patrician, old money Winklevoss twins, the rowing team heroes who commission Zuckerberg to build them an "exclusive" Harvard social network site, then "as gentlemen of Harvard" are shocked when he takes their idea, perfects it and launches it on his own.
Eisenberg ("Adventureland," "Zombieland") cranks up the intensity so much that we almost forget we're watching an unpleasant variation of the smart kid role he's played his whole career. With the boyish Garfield cast as the next Spider Man and Mara as the new "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," someday we'll look back on "The Social Network" as one of those movies that launched major careers. Justin Timberlake, playing the sex-and-drugs-and-more-sex womanizer and visionary Napster inventor-salesman Sean Parker, may seem a little fey in the role. But that just makes his unisex charm that much more devastating.
"Private behavior is a relic of a time gone by," his Parker preaches, and Zuckerberg listens — enthralled.
Revel in Sorkin's saucy, sarcastic re-creation of a scene in which the privileged Winkelvosses ("Winklevi" is what Zuckerberg calls them) try to enlist Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, in their case.
And try try try not to think of these folks and this creation myth as you burn off hours at Zuckerberg's "freakishly addictive" invention. The performances, direction and writing of one of the best pictures of 2010 make this "Social Network" every bit as addictive, and a little chilling as well.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake Director: David Fincher Running time: 2 hours
Industry rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language