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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Frenzy on the Wall: Is The Social Network Fincher’s Best Film?

I’ve made no secret of my love for David Fincher. Simply put, I think he’s one of the top five living filmmakers, the second best living American filmmaker and I anticipate the openings of each of his films the way someone might await seeing their favorite band at a concert. But is his latest film, The Social Network, his best film?

Even before I saw the most brilliantly constructed trailer of the last few years, I had The Social Network on the top of my list of films I needed to see in 2010. The problem that comes with that kind of anticipation is that it can lead to massive disappointment (see: Panic Room) and so as I sat down Friday afternoon and The Social Network began to unspool, I felt anxious.

Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. The Social Network is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year and it’s not even close.

I think the most fascinating thing about Fincher’s career has been his ability to adapt to the material he chooses. Very rarely do we find scenes in Fincher’s films that seem over-directed or showy. When the camera does all those twists and turns in Fight Club or there is a super close-up, we never feel like we are taken out of the film. This goes hand in hand with why I think Fincher is so great: his ability to create a tone and mood, finding tension and milking it with every weapon in his arsenal including photography and editing. So while Fight Club had a lot of quick cuts, which kept us on our toes, Zodiac used well-timed cuts to create a sense of foreboding.

The Social Network is almost classic in its tone and mood. We have two separate lawsuits – although they never actually go to court – which makes the film feel a bit like a legal drama, but there’s also the rise to power of a genius which makes it feel perhaps like a Citizen Kane-esque operatic drama.

If I had to find a theme that runs through most of Fincher’s work, it would be alienation. He tends to be drawn to characters that don’t fit in: Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset in Se7en; Robert Downey, Jr.‘s Paul Avery in Zodiac; Brad Pitt as both Tyler Durden in Fight Club and Benjamin Button .

In The Social Network, we are presented with a very peculiar outcast in Mark Zuckerberg. What makes Zuckerberg so odd – and so compelling – is that he has a quick wit, lots of intelligence, and a good deal of bravado. Most people would use these gifts – not to mention his genius ability to work with computers – to gather as many friends as possible. I mean, the tools are there for him to be an extroverted and popular kid despite the fact that he’s no Brad Pitt.

But instead, Zuckerberg (as presented in the movie, at least) uses his abilities to cut people down and make them feel bad about themselves so that he could feel better about his life. Yet, the amazing thing is that he’s portrayed as longing to have friends, to have a girlfriend, to have a connection. And I think it’s an interesting perspective on the man who created the largest social networking site of all-time.

I have to say, though, that I didn’t find Zuckerberg to be a villain. Maybe it says a lot about me, but I found myself on his side for most of the film. Sure, he can be resentful and spiteful, but considering he’s a kid who doesn’t know how to deal with people, I can’t really blame him for a lot of what he does. In fact, I can defend every decision he makes throughout the film. I can even defend what he does to his best friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin. (Spoilers ahead)

When Zuckerberg, the brains behind the operation, decides to head out to Silicon Valley to grow the company (which turned out to be the right decision), Eduardo stays in New York instead of moving out to California with Mark. To me, that says that Eduardo didn’t believe in the company the way that Mark did. In any fledgling company, the CFO needs to, you know, oversee the business and make sure it’s running smoothly, that the funds are being used correctly. Eduardo clearly doesn’t think the site will take off the way it ultimately did.

Sure, you could say that Mark shouldn’t have betrayed his best friend in that way, but business is business. And the truth of the matter is, as depicted in the movie, Eduardo’s biggest contribution to the creation of the site was as the money-man. He supplied 19,000 bucks – money that Mark could have gotten from a number of other sources, including the Winklevoss twins. Of course, most of the audience I was with was rooting for Eduardo; when the crawl at the end of the film pops up on screen and informs us that Eduardo got a large settlement, the audience applauded. (End Spoilers)

I think the fact that I wasn’t rooting against Zuckerberg speaks to the film’s power. A lot of people have justly given credit to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, but mostly folks have pointed out his fine ear for dialogue. The dialogue is indeed strong, but the most important aspect of Sorkin’s script is the way he has structured the film in a complicated yet coherent way. The first part of the film is set at Harvard as Mark is creating Facebook and the second part of the film starts when Mark meets Sean Parker – the creator of Napster – and becomes enamored with how Parker operates so smoothly.

Meanwhile, there are two settlement hearings that take place after the events in the regular narrative, and those hearings are inter-spliced at key points throughout the film, giving us both a hint of what is to come for the characters and some perspective. It also helps to give Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins a voice that is equally as loud as Zuckerberg’s in the narrative. It was really a genius move on Sorkin’s part and I’d give him the Oscar for Best Screenplay based on that alone.

I haven’t mentioned the acting at all, so let me dedicated an entire paragraph to the masterful performance of Jesse Eisenberg. The whole cast is uniformly excellent – seriously, not a bad turn in the batch – but Eisenberg deserves special recognition for being the most effortlessly compelling protagonist of the year (and maybe the last few years). I say “effortlessly” but I’m sure there was a lot of work involved, it’s just that Eisenberg makes it seem easy. It’s not just the way he delivers Sorkin’s dialogue so naturally, it’s the way his eyes narrow when he’s thinking or the way his lips turn up into a smile when he’s creating FaceMash; more than anything, it’s the way he perks up with confidence when he knows he’s right.

He doesn’t just seem believable, he is believable and real. This is the kind of performance that is so difficult and that doesn’t get any credit because it’s not flashy. I’m sure the Academy will ignore what is, so far, the performance of the year, but I guarantee we’ll all be talking about it for years.

Now, onto the rest of the cast! Justin Timberlake is going to be a movie star, without a doubt. He exudes confidence in most of his scenes as Sean Parker and he would be so easy to detest if he wasn’t so charming; he makes us understand why Zuckerberg falls under his spell. I especially loved his scenes at the end, when he’s finally feeling vulnerable. Andrew Garfield is going to be a movie star too; in fact, he’s going to be Spider-Man. Garfield is certainly the heart of the film, the naïve soul who is destined to get his heartbroken.

We sympathize with him, we want him to be okay and we cheer when he breaks apart Zuckerberg’s laptop. Garfield arguably has the easiest task because the script sets him up as the puppy dog who squeals with delight about having groupies, but Garfield takes it to an interesting place. There is a vulnerability in the way Garfield speaks his lines that is affecting in a different way. And Arnie Hammer (with help from Josh Pence) astounded me as Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. The Winklevi could very easily be portrayed as villains, but the script and Hammer doesn’t allow that to happen; they actually seem like reasonable and bright gentlemen with an emphasis on the word “gentlemen,” as they believe very much in tradition and manners and codes of ethics. Hammer gets the best line in the film – a reference to Karate Kid that made me chuckle – but it’s in the way he delivers his lines as the Winklevoss twins, the way he imbues every line with conviction.

The other actors, from Rooney Mara as the girl who calls Zuckerberg an asshole in the beginning of the film to Rashida Jones who brings things full-circle at the end, are all excellent. John Getz, Brenda Strong, Joseph Mazzello, Max Minghella … everyone does their parts perfectly. There isn’t a single false note and it takes a lot of strong supporting work to be able to allow the leads to shine and everyone should be proud of their work here.

I have to give special mention to the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross because I don’t usually pay that much attention to the scores of films unless they really strike me, but this is one that I want to buy immediately. I’ve been a big Reznor fan since I was a kid listening to Nine Inch Nails in my room and I always thought, based on his instrumental work, that he’d be a great film composer. Well, I was right, because this score kicked my ass right from the beginning when we see Zuckerberg creating FaceMash cross-cut with a Final Club party. Just masterful.

Jeff Cronenweth’s photography is as great as it usually is. He’s worked with Fincher since Se7en and I think he’s one of the more underrated cinematographers out there. Cronenweth has this one shot in Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo where Robin Williams is running down a circular parking garage and it just blew my mind. Cronenweth is also smart to work with visually talented filmmakers and Fincher knows how to frame a shot that can be hung on a wall and called art.

The Social Network is the best film of the year so far and we’ve got three more months to go, but I feel it’s safe to say that it’ll be somewhere near the top of my ten best list in December. However, where does it rank with other Fincher films? That’s what I’ve been debating ever since I walked out of the movie and I’ve been wrestling with it all weekend.

I don’t think I can put it up there with Zodiac or Se7en yet because I feel like those two films have themes and stories that are timeless and I do worry that The Social Network could be dated in a few years. The theme might be timeless, but facts could emerge that could change our perception of what occurred. There’s still so much we don’t know and that could change.

On the other hand, I think Fight Club is one of the most important films ever made and it’s certainly one of the most important films for me, personally, as a cinema freak; I certainly can’t put The Social Network up there yet. I loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button more than most people I know, but I suppose I could confidently say that The Social Network is better than that one. So, does that make it the fourth best film Fincher has done? I’m not entirely sure yet, I need to let it marinate a bit more. But if that’s so? Holy shit, that’s amazing. I mean, that’s not a knock on the film at all; if The Social Network, a brilliant film that I might even call a masterpiece, is only the fourth best film Fincher has made, then I don’t think I need to make any more arguments about why he’s the second best living American filmmaker.

Paul Thomas Anderson is still number one…for now.

(Side-note: It’s strange when I hear people call it “the Facebook movie” or folks complaining about the subject matter. Perhaps it’s just me, but the subject matter of a film is usually the least important aspect of a movie. A film could be about sex, which is arguably the most “exciting” and “risqué” topic there is, but that doesn’t automatically make the film riveting. And a film could be about people talking in rooms and it could be absolutely enthralling.

The truth of the matter is that The Social Network is really about people talking in rooms; they could be discussing creating any kind of business and I don’t really understand why people would be put off by the idea of that specific business being a website that most folks check several times a day.)

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10 Responses to “Frenzy on the Wall: Is The Social Network Fincher’s Best Film?”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    I agree with most everything you put into this one, Noah…right down to your current favorite American director. 🙂

  2. Greg says:

    I loved “The Social Network”, but we need to let it marinate for a few years….see if it holds up, which I certainly think it will, but who can say? For now, “Zodiac” tops the list I think – I could watch that once a week, I think, and then watch all of the extras on the DVD when I finished. Also, “Button” is last on any Fincher list – no question.

  3. I think it is definitely one of David Fincher’s top films. I think the whole team behind the film is pretty amazing with Scott Rudin and Kevin Spacey. I really enjoyed the interviews of Jesse Eisenberg and Timberlake. Check them out:

    Justin Timberlake’s performance was his best yet.

  4. Michael says:

    A verbally challenged journalist with good opinions. Personally I’d rank Wes Anderson above Paul Thomas Anderson. Add Scorsese, Coppola and Tarantino and you’ll have the top five living American directors. Fincher might be # 6. I’ll concede that he’s making better films than Tarantino these days.

  5. Keil Shults says:

    I’d place P.T. well above Wes, if only for consistency and range of vision. And obviously Scorsese and Coppola have done great work, but I think Noah was talking about films being made today. The last 5 Scorsese films can’t compete with the last 5 P.T. Anderson films, just like P.T.’s work to date still isn’t great enough or lengthy enough to compare with Scorsese’s entire filmography. Coppola, on the other hand, made 4 phenomenal films in the 1970s and has been struggling ever since, only occasionally finding success. And yes, Tarantino is great and hasn’t made a bad film yet. And yes, I remember (and quite enjoy) Death Proof.

    As for Fincher, I’m not bothering to actually rank all these guys (sorry ladies) right now, but I did want to include that I don’t think Fight Club has held up as well for me as I would have liked. I don’t think a film like Zodiac is in danger of getting old or losing its luster anytime soon, if at all.

  6. George says:

    Nicely put, Noah! I loved this one, too (and am a real Fincher fan as well), and found one of its many great achievements to be how difficult and complex it becomes to root out the “hero” from the “villain” at any given moment. It offers up the process of creating one of our era’s biggest business ventures as something both completely thrilling and totally ugly at the same time. I would also single out Rooney Mara for her great (second) scene with Eisenberg.

  7. Keil Shults says:


    Have you done a piece on your favorite living filmmakers? If not, I’d be interested to read it, though restricting it to American filmmakers might make it a bit easier (for you) and (depending on how much foreign cinema you’ve digested) more informed. By that I mean…I like what I’ve seen of Wong Kar-Wai or Abbas Kiarostami, but I’d be a fool to honestly try to rank them against the Coen Brothers, whose entire filmography I’ve consumed. Of course, some directors fall in and out of favor so quickly. In the earlier part of this past decade I was amazed by Linklater’s string of fascinating films, culminating with his stellar Before Sunset. But since then it’s been a mixed bag, though I still consider him one of my favorite filmmakers (based on overall track record and personality, if not necessarily his most recent efforts). And what of Alexander Payne, who I loved so much in 2004 that I commissioned by artist girlfriend at the time (now wife) to sketch images from all 4 of his films that I could later use as artwork on a t-shirt expressing my admiration for the man and his work. Side note: one copy of this shirt exists on the planet, the title above the illustrations reads, “Payne’s World,” and I wear it proudly to this day. But the guy hasn’t made a film since his (possibly) greatest achievement, released a full 6 years ago. He’s apparently working on a new film, but who knows when we’ll see it or how good it will be. Anyway, some things to think about for a possible future article, assuming you haven’t already done a similar one that I’ve overlooked or forgotten.

  8. Noah Forrest says:


    Don’t know that I’ve written an article specifically devoted to my favorite filmmakers, but I’ve mentioned from time to time that my top 5 would probably include PTA, Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Lukas Moodysson, and one from a group of: Gus Van Sant, The Coens, Scorsese, Tarantino, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, or Rebecca Miller. That’s not counting Aronofsky, Coppola (both of them), Linklater, Malick, Nichols, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Fernando Meirelles, Almodovar, Polanski, Baumbach, Todd Field (!), David Lynch, Michael Haneke, Soderbergh, Cameron Crowe, Spike Jonze, Peter Weir, Danny Boyle, Godard (even though he hasn’t made a decent film in 40 years), and that’s just off the top of my head.

    Needless to say, such a column devoted to picking out five from that group would be quite a task. But I’m up to the challenge. I’ll save it for a week when there’s less going on in the film world.

  9. Brian Sanders says:

    I a huge fan of David Fincher, he manage to bring a Alfred Hitchcock feel to his movies. I think that Zodiac was one of the 10 best of 00. My least favorite is Fight Club, to me that movie never came together. I liked a lot of things in it but the movie never worked for me. Not every great director knock it out of the park great ( Spike Lee’s Girl 6, Woody Allen’s Shadow and Fog, Francis Coppola’s Jack). David is one of the few director that I look forward to seeing because he bring something to the table.

  10. Tyler says:

    Interesting article, I can’t wait to see the film tonight! Unless Woody Allen just died, I’d say you have Fincher at least one spot too high 😉

Frenzy On Column

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon