Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, refused to cooperate with this film about the founding of Facebook. The problem for Mark is that by not cooperating, it was left for his enemies to define him in a movie that will be seen by far more people than could ever see him being interviewed on Oprah.
While Zuckerberg (brilliantly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg) comes across as a socially-challenged genius, most of the scienter is taken out of his actions by director David Fincher, Eisenberg, and writer Alan Sorkin. Eisenberg gives a performance so captivating that I could sit through the movie again, just to watch him.
While the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich is given a “based on” credit, Sorkin used Mezrich’s reporting notes, but his screenplay was finished about the time the book was finished.
Since Sorkin didn’t get Zuckerberg’s cooperation he pieced together how Facebook came to be by interviewing all the other people involved whom he could contact, as well as reading depositions and other documents. The way Sorkin tells the story is Rashomon-lite. Each starts telling about each incident from his point of view and then the film flashes back to show the actual incident developing.
The format of the film centers on a deposition of various parties in litigation between Zuckerberg and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the people who claim Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them while they were all students at Harvard in October 2003 Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence, respectively; Hammer played the main twin in each shot. For shots that included both twins at the same time, Pence stood in for the second twin) and cuts back and forth from the deposition to flashbacks about the incidents to which the deponents are testifying. Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old sophomore at the time.
Zuckerberg is pictured as a socially inept genius who created the most powerful social network in history, an anomaly if ever there was one. Sorkin leaves it up to the viewers to form their own conclusions as to whether or not Zuckerberg, although in charge, set out to steal the idea from the Winkelvosses or failed to honor his arrangement with Saverin, who provided all of the early financing for Facebook, that Severin would have a 30 percent share of the company Zuckerberg. Casting no blame, Sorkin shows it all just happening. I don’t know anything about Zuckerberg or what happened, but my impression is that this is a remarkably charitable way to picture Zuckerberg who, from the facts set forth in this film, does appear to have stolen the idea and to have dealt unfairly with Saverin.
Fincher, who directed the remarkable the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), shows that he can keep the pace moving even though this film is mostly talk. It is also almost terminally vague about many things, like how did Facebook go from a popular free program to a huge money-maker? What did Zuckerberg have to add to what the Winkelvoss’s had, and vice versa? How did it go from a one-man show to an organization its shown as having in Silicon Valley at the end of the film?
If there is a heavy in the film, it’s Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who was the genius who started Napster (the peer-sharing site that ran afoul of the music industry), but didn’t make any money out of it. While Sorkin treats Zuckerberg gently, he’s not so gentle with Parker. This is puzzling since from what I could piece together, it was Parker who had the know-how and connections with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to change Facebook from a non-revenue producer into something that is now worth $25 billion, according to some estimates. In fact, he became its president when it was incorporated in 2004, but was forced to leave the company when accused of cocaine possession, an incident touched upon in the film.
But I still came out of the movie not knowing what Parker and the Silicon Valley shrewdies did to make Facebook into a money-maker. Oh, well, this is a movie, probably the best of the year. Oscars for Fincher, Sorkin, Eisenberg, and best movie, at least, are distinct possibilities.