The Social Network and The Town; Two movies with little in common, except they both just came out and are the critical darlings of 2010. Both tied at a 245% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, their insane popularity threatens to blow the popular review aggregator site apart, sending Tomatoes popular “lists” into the troposphere of the internet. Lost forever will be Five Favorite Films with Troy Duffy.
The situation must be diffused. A victor must be chosen.
Cinematic Showdown is here to save the day.
The Social Network – The story of the founding of Facebook, based on the nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg.
The Town – Set in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which according to the film is a bank robber factory. Ben Affleck plays a kind-hearted bank robber who falls for a girl that he kidnaps during a getaway. Problems ensue.
David Fincher – The director of The Social Network; Born 1962 in Denver, Colorado, he came to prominence as a key music video director of the 80’s and early 90’s. His feature directorial debut was the disastrous Alien 3, but he soon bounced back with the serial killer movie Seven. Know mostly for thrillers with twisty plots and pitch black lighting, he’s since gone on to direct The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Next up is a remake/adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Ben Affleck – Known first as a go-to actor for several years, then became the butt of everyone’s jokes after some high-profile celebrity romances and box office bombs. He’s had a career resurgence since directing his feature directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, a crime thriller set in Boston. Bouncing off of the success of that film and The Town, Affleck is considering a number of directing jobs, expressing an interest in perhaps dabbling in science fiction.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK – The first full trailer really intrigued me; We’re listening to a choir singing a cover of “Creep” by Radiohead; a song about loneliness, and desperately wanting to belong. As the song plays, we see images from Facebook accounts: a girl with her cat; a woman in the hospital attached to an IV (Possibly dying? At that moment, they sing “I want you to notice when I’m not around”); a dude flexing his muscles;etc. They, we’re taken back to where and when it all began, with a socially awkward kid and his few friends at Harvard University. If you haven’t seen this trailer, go check it out right now. I’ll wait.
You back? Ok, based on that trailer, and director David Fincher’s history, I was expecting something along the lines of Fight Club 2010; a summation of this global phenomenon that has completely shifted social interaction. However, most thoughts of that nature are addressed in the trailer, and the movie itself actually resembles a Jane Austen novel: A comedy/drama, revolving around ultimately unimportant social niceties, and money exchanges between people who don’t really need money. I like Jane Austen, so this isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.
The movie itself was well made, but the lack of ambition with the concept was a bit of a letdown. I’m never one to advocate judging a movie based on what you want it to be, rather than what it is, but it does seem like there were the raw materials to make something that I would have been much more interested in seeing. Ultimately, this is simply a character piece, not a generational defining work of art.
The Aaron Sorkin script was thankfully free of an excessive amount of Sorkin-isms (“I’m sorry?” “Yes.”), but still had it’s problems. I’m not someone who cares about the accuracy of a true life story. Is My Darling Clementine an accurate portrayal of the life of Wyatt Earp? Not at all. Do I care? Not in the least. I watch my “nonfiction” the same way I watch my fiction; I just want to be entertained. So the fact that the novel The Accidental Billionaires is highly questionable never bothered me at all; the Mark Zuckerberg in the film is not the Zuckerberg of real life, just a character that represents an idea. The idea of a geek remaking the world in his image. But, my lack of passion for the facts works both ways. Why are the Winklevoss twins in so much of this? Their characters don’t seem to be that critical to the narrative, since they ultimately have very little to do with the creation of Facebook. Sure, they’re fun, entertaining characters, but that’s part of the problem, too; Every character in this movie is somewhat likeable. There are no villains, and therefore no real conflict. Justin Timberlake’s character probably comes the closest to a villain role, but he’s more of a “crazy friend” type of character. This may be because of an enlightened worldview, or perhaps just to avoid litigation, but I’m guessing that Sorkin loves his characters so much that he couldn’t stand for any of them to be bad guys. To be dramatically satisfying, Zuckerberg either needs to be a hero or a villain, but the movie’s viewpoint on him is summed up by Rashida Jones giving him an “Oh, you rascal you!” speech.
As with all Fincher films, it’s technically flawless. The deep darks in Jeff Cronenweth’ photography fill you with an extreme sense of dread, even when it’s just a scene of some scrawny kid drinking beer in his dorm room. Trent Reznor’s score has an 80’s retro feel that I love, and the editing keeps this thing humming along at a steady pace. The performances are all solid, and I’ll give a particular nod to Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins. It’s a well crafted drama, but “Best Movie Of The Year By Far”? I guess I don’t really see it.
THE TOWN – Meanwhile, elsewhere in Massachusetts. . . The Town is a very traditional heist movie, in that it’s about tough dudes doing tough things, there’s one “good” robber and one “bad” robber, and a chick fucks everything up for everyone. It’s closest in style to the films of Michael Mann.
This movie also has it’s ups and downs. On the plus side, there’re some nice action scenes, and much like in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck makes good use of the local color, hiring supporting actors who actually look like locals. On the negative, all of the lead characters are miscast, with the sole exception of Jeremy Renner. I’ll forgive some of the stupid contrivances that take place, since they’re a convention of the genre going way back; These are morality tales, after all, and can get a little Greek at times.
Robert Elswit does what he can with the photography (Trivia note: This is Elswit and Affleck’s first collaboration since Gigli!), but Affleck doesn’t really do anything interesting with the camera. Gone Baby Gone was so smooth and crisp looking, and this just looks like a generic, post-Bourne action film. He also hired Henry Gregson-Williams to score, the world’s most generic action movie composer. I really need to see Mad Men, because I just don’t understand why you would cast Jon Hamm in anything.
This could have been more interesting if Affleck and Rebecca Hall’s characters were a little edgier, but they were both Angels With Dirty Faces from frame one. Not a bad film, but not terribly exciting either.
Winner – The Social Network
And humanity is saved.