Like the screwball comedies and film noir staples of yore, The Social Network exhibits an extraordinary gift for gab. Words fly like machine gun strafes, and arguments generally end with the more verbally adroit speaker standing over the other person like a wave that's managed to tumble a surfer. If screenwriting was considered a sport, Aaron Sorkin's script wouldn't just be competing for year-end movie awards but for Olympic gold as well.
One of the best films of the year, The Social Network is the fascinating (though factually sketchy) story of how a Harvard nerd by the name of Mark Zuckerberg (superbly played by Jesse Eisenberg) created Facebook and in the process became the world's youngest billionaire. Yet this isn't an inspiring movie about an underdog beating the odds as much as it's a prickly mishmash of how one person's insecurities led to material gains even as his personality remained stuck in an arrogant, off-putting zone. As depicted here, Zuckerberg is frightfully brilliant, yet brains don't compensate for the manner in which he screws over people, particularly his only friend (Andrew Garfield, much better here than in the upcoming Never Let Me Go). And when Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, impressively playing sleazy) worms his way into the game, the fledgling company really takes off, but at what cost to Zuckerberg's already blackened soul?
Coming off the overrated slog The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director David Fincher keeps the proceedings — two separate lawsuits on top of the Facebook genesis material — moving at a rapid clip, a task made easier by Sorkin’s breezy, biting dialogue and animated performances by a well-chosen cast. But a quick pace isn’t the same as a hurried one, and The Social Network takes its time in showing how one loner was able to unite 500 million friends, even as he remained perpetually hidden on the other side of the cold, glaring screen.