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The Social Network

Harvard alums battle for ownership of a legacy in this smart Silicon Valley pastiche.

© Columbia Pictures Jesse Eisenberg and Joseph Mazzello.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg: Zombieland) is a socially stunted Harvard sophomore. Just dumped by his girlfriend, he gets drunk, lashes out in a blog, hacks for photos of Ivy League co-eds and creates a hotness rating website that crashes Harvard’s network. The misadventure stirs up trouble but also catches the attention of alpha twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both Armie Hammer: Spring Breakdown), who recruit him into developing their own dating website. But Zuckerberg springboards into his own vision while leading them on, developing Facebook with the backing of buddy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield: the next Spider-Man).

The site, of course, explodes. Zuckerberg’s relationships follow suit.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson’s War) adapted transcripts, legal testimonies, personal interviews and Ben Mezrich’s controversial book, The Accidental Billionaires, for this film. It’s a pretty thorough job, and many of the best elements are true: the Olympian Winklevii, zip line, business cards — even the Adidas sandals and Becks beer. But Sorkin also flashes his artistic license, sculpting the story into dramatic shape by omission, invention, warping and amplification.

The Social Network isn’t the best source, then, for reliable truth. But as fiction based on fact, it’s juicy drama. What might have been a dry timeline is alive with personality, innovation and rivalry. Zuckerberg is a sharp-tongued, intensely focused geek with dead-to-barely-breathing empathy, cutting a straight line for his goal. Eduardo is a naïve and conventional thinker, trying to contribute but not able to keep up with his partner’s vision. The Winklevii are a fantastic image of entitlement, legacies convinced that they planted the seed and desperate for a piece of the fortune.

The filmmakers do a fine job of knitting the elements together. It’s a smart, character-driven retelling with memorable scenes, and the dialogue is sharp. Even Justin Timberlake is surprisingly adept in his turn as a Silicon Valley superstar.

Director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) offers a movie with substance, delving beyond simple exploitation of a current phenomenon to find the story. However accurate, this one is solid entertainment for Facebookers and the computer-shy alike.

Great drama • PG-13 • 120 mins.