- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
August 2016 M T W T F S S « Jun 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
TagsAmy Adams Angelina Jolie Anne Hathaway Cameron Diaz Carey Mulligan Daniel Radcliffe Darren Aronofsky David Fincher Dwayne Johnson Edward Norton Elizabeth Banks Emily Blunt Emma Watson Gary Oldman George Clooney Gwyneth Paltrow Jack Black James Franco Jason Segel Jason Sudeikis Jesse Eisenberg John C. Reilly Johnny Depp Joseph Gordon-Levitt Julia Roberts Mark Wahlberg Matt Damon Michael Bay Michelle Williams Mila Kunis Natalie Portman Owen Wilson Paul Rudd Reese Witherspoon Robert De Niro Robert Downey Jr Ryan Gosling Sam Worthington Seth Rogen Steven Soderbergh The Avengers The Lunch Tom Cruise Twilight: Breaking Dawn Zack Snyder
Tag Archives: Jesse Eisenberg
After from jumping from commercials and lowest-common-denominator MTV programming to the big screen with “Zombieland,” director Ruben Fleischer fast found himself a sought-after talent. For his follow-up, he chose “30 Minutes or Less,” a crime-comedy (based on a far less cheerful true story) where Jesse Eisenberg is strapped with a bomb by low-rent criminals Danny McBride and Nick Swardson and then forced to rob a bank.
Fleischer’s currently casting and in pre-production for “Gangster Squad,” a ’50s L.A. crime saga with Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone and Sean Penn. We spoke with Fleischer in L.A. about keeping the gas down for “30 Minutes or Less,” how he cant really think art imitates life, and about how “Zombieland 2″ may be a victim of its own success.
When did this project first come across your bow as something you might do?
Fleischer: I guess it was about a month or two after ‘Zombieland.’ It was before Christmas of last year. No, before Christmas of 2009. ‘Zombieland’ came out in October, so it would have been November, December of 2009. Obviously I had this completely revolutionary experience with ‘Zombieland’ where all of a sudden after being a struggling filmmaker who was dying to make his first movie, I was being presented with all of these beyond imaginable opportunities. I was a bit overwhelmed. Then I met with (producer) Stuart Cornfeld at Red Hour, and he shared that script with me. As soon as I read it, I was pretty sure that was the one that I wanted to do.
And you knew you wanted to work with Mr. Eisenberg again. Was that ‘Done and done; I’ve got my guy?’
Fleischer: I love Jesse. I loved our collaboration on the first movie, and I was extremely excited to reunite with him.
How important was it to keep the film moving? This is a really briskly cut, really brief film. It never is in danger of outstaying its welcome, but more importantly, it moves forward — not quite in real time, but it moves swiftly. How important was that in terms of keeping the velocity of it going?
Fleischer: We pared it down significantly through the entire process. We shot lots more than what ended up, but the reality is as soon as Jesse’s got the bomb on him, it becomes a race to the finish. Anything that wasn’t essential felt indulgent. We didn’t want the audience to ever forget the stakes and the immediacy of everything that he’s faced with.
When you’re doing scenes with talented improvisers like Mr. McBride and Mr. Swardson and Mr. Ansari — and, even to a certain extent, Mr. Eisenberg — is that A-to-B momentum of the plot a little bit problematic in that people can’t quite wander off as much as you might like for comedic purposes?
Fleischer: Not at all, because so much of what’s in there is improvised. I think we were able to have the best of both worlds in terms of keeping it tight and keeping it fast, but also allowing the actors the opportunity to elevate each of the scenes with their own original ideas.
After the challenges of ‘Zombieland,’ after creating the apocalypse, on what was a fairly reasonable budget, you did really well with not much money. On a production level, did ’30 Minutes or Less’ offer any particular challenges, or was it all stuff that you had faced down before?
Fleischer: Definitely. For me, it was a chance to work with, like you mentioned, some really talented improvisers. For me it was exciting to find even more in the moment and to get a greater comfort level working in that style and having some incredibly talented people to collaborate with and learn from. That was a new challenge. ‘Zombieland’ did a good job of working between the genres that it was dealing with. This was a real challenge in terms of finding the right tone so that it was dark and challenging but never too dark or too horrific, being able to allow the comedy to survive despite the circumstances.
There’s been some stuff in the news about the family of the gentleman who was involved in the real-life equivalent of this case and whether or not it’s a disservice to the real gentleman’s memory. At a certain point, do you throw your hands up and say, ‘I read a script, and I’m making a movie?’
Fleischer: I think you summed it up. I couldn’t have said it better myself, honestly.
What was the biggest challenge in making the bomb vest? I spoke with Mr. Eisenberg and he suggested the thing was hot.
Fleischer: Luckily I didn’t have to wear it. If he wasn’t skinny already, he definitely sweated out a lot. I think it was making it look authentic and homemade and scary but not too scary or too gruesome, because it’s so present that you want it to be a threat but not a distraction.
Are there alternate takes of scenes where you went, ‘No, we’re not making a scary thriller here, we’re not making a version of this film that would star Christopher Walken and unfold in real time and with a James Horner score?’
Fleischer: I think there were moments with Jesse where he played the reality of that character’s situation to an extreme in terms of the fear and the helplessness. At times, maybe we’d cross the line and that’s why they’re not in there.
It is this great symbolic moment of existential dread, having a bomb strapped to you that an idiot could set off. I really can’t think of a better parable for being trapped in a godless universe.
Fleischer: I appreciate that. It’s an incredible compliment, too.
What’s occurring with ‘Gangster Squad?’ I know you’re working on it, you’re bringing everything together, people are being cast, but tonally it’s going to be so different from anything you’ve ever done. Is this something where you’re rubbing your hands together and watching a bunch of stuff to start getting the flavor of it in your head, or are you still so caught up in negotiations and casting that thinking about the A to B connectivity of scenes is impossible?
Fleischer: No, we start shooting in four weeks, so I’ve got to be ready for it. I’ve been watching a ton of period noir films, some classic Westerns, and some of my favorite gangster movies from recent years, from ‘The Godfather’ to ‘Chinatown’ to ‘The Untouchables’ to ‘L.A. Confidential.’
You mentioned Westerns — are we talking about, like, Anthony Mann stuff?
Flesicher: I love (Sergio) Leone, and I love the scale of his films and the iconic frames. There’s a parallel to be drawn between our film and ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ so I watched that recently. I would say Leone and ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ and to a lesser degree, ‘Wild Bunch.’
Should fans of ‘Zombieland’ stop holding their breath for a ‘Zombieland 2?’
Fleischer: It pains me to say it — and I don’t think it’s because any of us don’t want to make it –but it feels like the momentum or the reality of that happening gets further and further away every day. Emma’s got sequels that she owes, Woody’s tied up with ‘The Hunger Games’ now, and Jesse after ‘Social Network,’ there’s so many opportunities that it might be hard to corral everyone — myself included, just with my obligations to ‘Gangster Squad’ for this next year, and then who knows what lies beyond that.
If you had to hand ‘Zombieland 2′ off to any other director, who would it be if you got to pick? Just like movie nerd fantasy baseball.
Fleischer: That’s a great question. It’s obviously not one that I’ve considered very much, but I would be excited — I don’t know if this is the right answer — for (‘Zombieland’ screenwriters) Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese to take a crack at it. They created the world and know it so well, and I know they have aspirations of directing, so I could see them doing a great job with it.
Perhaps best known for his work as the effortlessly entrepreneurial Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation” — or as the swaggering, shouting stand-up Randy in “Funny People” — Aziz Ansari is now playing the best pal. Of course, this being the crime-comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” Ansari is playing the best pal to Jesse Eisenberg’s wired-to-explode pizza delivery man, cringing at a safe distance even while standing by his friend. We talked with Ansari in L.A. about improvisation, Lunchables, tipping and how true equality means getting to play flawed characters.
This script comes across your desk and you’re being told, ‘Hey, you’re the best friend; you’re the straight guy, but it’s your version of the straight guy.’ How do you put that together?
Ansari: I got the script, and I thought the premise of the movie is about two regular guys that are best friends are forced to rob a bank while having a tumultuous time with the friendship. That was a good idea. Ruben really let me make the character my own and add whatever voices I had. So I was pretty comfortable with that, taking the part, even though on paper in a sense it’s a statement part because I’m not the guy going through crazy things. I knew I could figure it out, and I think I did.
That chance to figure things out, that was moments like making up the crazy, ‘This is how we paint our guns / when we’re going to get shot in the face’ song?
Ansari: There was things that I improvised that made it in, but there was funny stuff in the script for that character. It wasn’t a boring straight man part/ There’s been a lot of hilarious straight men performances recently. I think a lot of stuff Seth Rogen does is really funny in that vein. Michael Cera in ‘Superbad.’ I don’t really think of it as written as a straight man part. We’re both characters, but he‘s going through the crazy thing with the bomb.
How satisfying is it to get slightly into the mode of being a bad teacher?
Ansari: (Laughing) You mean as in the film ‘Bad Teacher?’
As in your character.
Ansari: Yeah, I know. I’ve done a few things where I’ve worked with kids and just been really mean to kids. That’s always really fun. During that scene, I told them, ‘Let’s add something here and make it a funny scene.’ I did that text-message thing (reading a student’s text message out loud in class.) — that was fun.
Do you hang out with Mr. Eisenberg a lot to create that illusion of friendship, or do you not hang out with him a lot to create that illusion of being slightly on the outs?
Ansari: I think we hung out a lot, so we could have a rapport and have a relationship that would be what we see onscreen as a variation of our lives, back-and-forth as far as the comedic chemistry. We hung out and tried to become best friends, and we got along really well and we’re still good friends.
Is it very much the case that you know people like Eisenberg’s character, you know the man-child who has Lunchables?
Ansari: I don’t know anyone that out of control, I don’t think.
Do you feel like you’ve come to terms with the whole thing of growing up and taking responsibility for your life the way Eisenberg’s character has to, or is part of the reason why a life of showbiz appeals because of that slight element of arrested development?
Ansari: To me, if you’re doing this kind of work, if you’re successful, it’s a lot of hard work and you’re pretty smart and responsible. I don’t think you’re going to get very far if you’re poof-ing around and not really focused on the work. I think that the nature of my work, comedic or whatever, I’m smart about what I do and I work really hard, so to me it’s a regular job.
When you come onboard a project like this, and there’s people like Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, how much of you is playing comedy sponge? How much of you is listening, to go, ‘Okay, I now get how they get laughs; I now get their sense of rhythm?’ Or are you somebody who’s such an idiosyncratic performer that you don’t do that whole ‘eavesdropping on other comics’ thing, even unconsciously?
Ansari: What’s great about all of us in the movie is we each have our own unique thing and that’s what we do. To me, my answer would be no. We each have our own thing and we connect.
What kind of a tipper are you when you get to delivery food? Do you try to show a little respect to delivery nation, or do you just say, ‘No, you’re on your own; maybe you should have thought about that before you dropped out of community college?’
Ansari: In general, I tip very big. I feel like other people are jerks, so I try to compensate.
Is that a southern hospitality thing?
Ansari: Yes. Or just in general how I was raised to be a nice person.
How was shooting in Grand Rapids? It really has that great look, but also doesn’t really feel like a major metropolis.
Ansari: It was great. It was a fine town. I didn’t get a ton of time to really explore the town. When I was there, I was filming all the time, and I would just come home and rest and get up and film. I was pretty much working. It was great.
When you’re doing things like making up the ‘spray painting the gun’ song, does it vary, now and then you throw things at the wall and nothing seems to stick, and now and then you — bang! — get it in one? Are you somebody who can just do this stuff fairly instantly, or is there a lot of hidden sweat that goes into it to look effortless?
Ansari: That song, I did it a few times. I had it in my head how I wanted to do it, and then I finally hit the thing way I thought. It’s a lot of rewriting on the spot sometimes. You try, and then it can kind of work, and then you refine it and you get a version that works. A lot of times you say things in the moment and it sticks. That Lunchables that we mention, I just said that in one take. I had that idea, and I said it. That came out, and that was a one-time joke; it worked. Other times, a longer thing you might want to refine it and then get it right.
Do you find we’ve transition into this period where the irresponsible, charismatic, but slightly unlikable characters has opened up a little bit in terms of the fact that with the ‘Harold and Kumar’ films, we’re establishing that in comedies, characters who are not necessarily the white, Anglo-Saxon dominant paradigm can be slightly flawed, slightly goofed up, slightly slack people, and it’s not a pejorative judgment; it’s more like these are fully dimensionalized characters with the same right to make mistakes as anyone?
Ansari: I think that’s just people catching up with the way that the world really is. Every Asian kid isn’t really some diligent, hard-working kid. There’s Asian kids that are stoners that listen to rock music all the time that people are like, ‘Let’s see that person in a movie; let’s make a person that’s more normal.’ Not to say other people aren’t normal. I think it’s moving away from making these ethnic caricatures. They’re rounded people, and I think there’s more and more of them in recent years, and in every sitcom has that Indian guy. It’s not like the kind of Indian guy you would have seen in a movie or a TV show 20 years ago.
When you said there are Asian people who do drugs and listen to rap music, all I could think, ‘Yes, there are. I learned that from ‘Grand Torino.’ I learned that from Clint Eastwood.’ I don’t know if you’ve seen that.
Ansari: I didn’t see that, no. That’s where he’s racist, right?
It’s chock full of Korean gangbangers. It’s really a blow for equality. If there were a hypothetical ’30 Minutes or Less’ sequel, would you want them to double the delivery time or half it? Would it be ‘An Hour or Less,’ or would it be ’15 Minutes or Less?’
Ansari: 15, so there’s more tension. It would be a tough one to make a sequel for.
Last August, in a junkyard in Grand Rapids, Mich., Jesse Eisenberg — not yet an Oscar nominee for “The Social Network” — was being threatened by gorilla mask-wearing armed toughs, who closed their threats by demonstrating the explosives they’d strapped to him by exploding a stuffed animal. Over and over again.
It was all for the upcoming action-comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” of course, which sees Eisenberg reunited with “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer. Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery guy forced into bank robbery by low-life crooks Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, given 10 hours to rob a bank or be blown to bits by the explosives-stuffed vest they’ve locked to him. Eisenberg spoke with the press about keeping his energy up in the face of terror and repetition. “Sometimes it’s easier than others,” he said. “Don’t drink coffee in the morning, ’cause then you’ll have, like, peaks of energy and lows. I try to maintain, like, a low-level exhaustion all day.”
Eisenberg had also researched his character’s world: “The pizza place where we’re filming the movie, they let me go out with this guy Alex, who they thought most similar to my character. I was surprised to realize how similar he was. He was as sarcastic and self-aware as the character is. It was a perfect match for my character, also for the kinda basic logistics of how it is to deliver pizzas and who the customers are. These guys who kidnap me in gorilla masks are surprisingly not far off some of the people we met that evening.”
I noted the old proverb that nothing concentrates the mind like knowing you’re going to be hanged in the morning. Is that part of his character arc? “Yeah, the emotional center of the movie is this character who has never done anything in his life,” he said. “He has a line: ‘I’ve never even quit a job, just waited around to get fired.’ He’s in love with this girl who’s his best friend’s sister. He’s never told her. He’s just kinda ridden through life lazily. This metaphorically lights a fire underneath him to take a stand and spend these 10 hours doing everything he should have been doing the last several years.”
So, which is tougher: running from zombies for Fleischer or racing to beat the clock? “This movie is more, at least for my character, serious in tone. ‘Zombieland’ was a little more fun. This one has to be played pretty much straight. This one is a little more exhausting because it’s set in the real world — there’s no winking to the audience, with this one.”
Eisenberg wasn’t worried about finding laughs in a crime inspired by a real — and grisly — case. “I guess the more seriously you play something, if the context is funny, then it will be funny, and it doesn’t really require you to be explicitly humorous or silly. There are some scenes in this movie, because of the grave situation, that are naturally that much more funny. For example the last several days we’ve been filming this bank robbery where Aziz Ansari and I have to rob a bank and everything that can go wrong in the bank does go wrong. It’s because the two of us are so panicked and freaked out and taking it so seriously that it’s really funny.”
Also funny? Pizza delivery in Grand Rapids, as Eisenberg noted with a laugh: “Somebody gave us a $5 ’cause they liked ‘Adventureland.'” We’ll have more from the set of “30 Minutes or Less” closer to its Aug. 12 opening.
Talking to Anne Hathaway about her work voicing Jewel, a macaw in the animated 3D film “Rio,” the actress made it clear that like all animated projects, the road from idea to finished production was fairly convoluted. When I asked her if she did any macaw-related research, Hathaway gave the most elegant shrug imaginable. “When I signed up, there wasn’t a script. A couple months later, there was, and I derived most of my macaw information from that.”
But Hathaway didn’t just get a script — she got verses to sing in a few of the animated film’s musical numbers. Again, this may not have been part of her original signing on: “I didn’t know I’d be singing when I agreed to the film. For the record, I didn’t know I’d be singing in ‘Ella Enchanted,’ either. It’s just something that comes up, and depending on whether or not it feels right, it’s always fun. In this case, you get to go sing a Sergio Mendes song or a will.i.am song. It’s a cool thing.”
Co-starring opposite Jesse Eisenberg, Hathaway faced the familiar challenge of animation voice acting: How do you have chemistry with an actor who’s not even in the recording booth with you? Hathaway credited director Carlos Saldanha. “I think it’s not really us. I think it’s Carlos that monitored us and made sure we were going to fit together. Jesse and I had a leg up in this department, because we were on a television series (‘Get Real’) together 10 years ago — actually, no, more than 10 years ago at this point, God. We’d worked together, so we knew each other’s timing.”
Saldanha also provided the passion that made the film a pleasure for Hathaway — the Brazilian-born Saldanha practically willed the film into being after his success with the “Ice Age” films. “I think he probably spoke more about his experience as being someone from Rio with the animators, but with us, we were focused on the characters. But his passion for this movie is what got this movie made, because it was three years of him working every single day, on planes, going to wherever we were. It’s a huge cast. The movie’s so enormous in scope, I don’t know how we did it, and he never once lost his temper, even a tiny bit, never once even claimed to be tired. He’s an extraordinary person, so pure of heart, and I’m so proud of him and happy that this is turning out so well for him.”
And, having seen the finished the film the night before, Hathaway spoke rapturously of the film’s soaring 3D. “It’s so cool. The moments I like 3D the most are whenever a film’s about flight, because you really get to go on the journey. When I saw ‘Avatar‘ in 3D, during that flying sequence where he tames that mountain creature — ah, that was so cool. This one had the same feeling where your stomach is moving with the screen, you feel your whole body reacting to it… (it’s) cinema-induced vertigo.”
Relaxed and light-hearted (on introducing myself, the actor waved off my formal greeting: “Please, please … ‘Mr. Eisenberg’ is my mother …”), Jesse Eisenberg talked about how he came to play Blu, the domesticated house-pet hurled into the wilds of South America in “Rio.” “I actually think I differed from the rest of the actors, because I think I signed on last. There was not only a script, but a lot of animation, too, so I was able to see what the character looks like and how he moves. It was so strange, because normally when you’re thinking of a character, it’s entirely your creation in conjunction with something that was written. In this, I could already see how he looks and how he moves and I had immediate affection for the character. I asked Carlos if I was expected to do a funny voice, and he said, ‘No, just look at the character, use your voice, and try to be as natural as possible.'”
I noted how the implication there is that Eisenberg’s voice is already a little bit funny — at least when coming from a cartoon bird. “Right, exactly. You modulate a little bit as it relates to the scenes, so I have maybe an urbane quality to my voice that Blu wouldn’t have. He’s more Garrison Keillor, rather than whatever the urban version of Garrison Keillor is — I guess there wouldn’t be one. He’s clever, but he’s just not as sophisticated.”
Like Hathaway, Eisenberg had to sing for the film — on numbers where the musical titan Sergio Mendes was the executive producer. He wasn’t too worried, as he notes. “No, they asked me to sing two lines. I started acting when I was about 8 years old doing children’s musical theatre, so I’ve been comfortable singing for a while. This was so wonderful because I’m singing in the company of the greatest musicians in the world, and we have another singer out there. I felt very safe, because I was in great company.”
So, I asked Eisenberg, is he someone who watches as much nature footage as possible when you find out you’re going to be voicing a bird, or does he just throw his hands up and read the lines? His answer gave an insight into just why he found being in “Rio” rewarding. “No, I was really interested in finding out about my character. I told my cousin, who’s a birder in New York, that I’m going to be playing (Blu). I told her the species (the rare Spix’s macaw), and she said, ‘Well, that’s actually based on something real — this blue Spix’s macaw is really endangered, and was asked to mate in Brazil with the female Spix’s macaw …’ — just like Blu does in the movie with Jewel. That gave me an even greater affection for the character, because it’s real. There’s real plight for this bird and this character, and that was one of the reasons I really loved the movie, because it promotes this wonderful message of the preservation of these wonderful species.”
I mostly observe the Oscars as something to get angry at. (Really, I figure all that experience yelling at the TV will come in handy when I get old; excuse me, older.) But as we brace ourselves for the big show on the 27th, I thought I’d go out on a limb and give my Bill Murray-style ‘will win’ vs. ‘should win’ picks — and while I take no responsibility if my advice tanks your office pool, I’m willing to think that based on Oscar blogger predictions, other awards shows and my gut instinct, these are going to wind up right on the big night.
The whole losing-weight-to-play-a-crackhead thing … it’s nice, but it’s showy. Bale’s performance, in many ways, feels like a blatant Oscar grab, done out of spite: “What, you didn’t see ‘Rescue Dawn?’ Well, take this, Academy!” Meanwhile, Hawkes provides, you know, actual support — and, in just a few scenes, helps make a good film great.
The fact that Steinfeld’s even in the category says more about Oscar politicking than common sense; she should really be over in Lead Actress. And if she weren’t in the category, it would have opened up room for Julianne Moore, who delivered true support in “The Kids are All Right” but wasn’t nominated. Moore had her own moments of brilliance, yes, but more importantly, she had the kind of messy, great moments that enable other actors around her to be brilliant in the service of the film.
This category is the one where the winds blow the weirdest. Hooper won the Director’s Guild of America award, which seemed a weird betrayal of Fincher. But then Fincher won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Directing award, which is, like, in Britain, so, dude, something funny is going on. Seriously, it’s going to be either Fincher or Hooper — and my money is on Hooper, while my heart is with Fincher.
Because, as the Italian saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Firth does technically good work, and emotionally impressive work, but it’s a performance under glass — meant to be put on a shelf and admired, kept safe from the real world. As Mark Zuckerberg, Eisenberg’s broken, brittle brilliance and insecure arrogance — and moments of true despair he can’t quite articulate — are the stuff of real acting, and of the real world. (Ironically, Eisenberg is playing someone worse than the real Zuckerberg, while Firth is playing someone nicer than the real King George VI. Always err on the side of the nice-nice, and the Academy will reward.)
Will win: “The King’s Speech”
Should win: “The Social Network”
Look, “The King’s Speech” is a nice movie. It’s charming. It’s full of great actors. It’s inspirational, in a Hallmark Channel kind of way. It blows the lid off of how both stuttering and Nazism are bad, both of which are certainly true. And it’s going to win, because the old, old-school Academy finds a nice film about nice people far more worthy of notice than a great film about not-so-great people. The only mistake David Fincher made in regard to “The Social Network,” as an Oscar contender, as near as I can tell? Not releasing it in 2080.
David Fincher’s latest, “The Social Network,” is about the founding of the online sharing site and social hub Facebook much in the same way that “The Great Gatsby” is about New York real estate. The opening scene is set in the dim, misty past of 2003, where future titan Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) has a conversation with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), and it goes from accidentally cold to deliberately cruel so swiftly and so hard that, by the time the conversation is over, their heads — and yours — are spinning. Aaron Sorkin (TV’s “The West Wing,” “Sports Night”) adapted the script from Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires,” and his trademark rat-a-tat dialogue has finally found the place it can run free — the minds and mouths of the superswift, socially maladroit young people who define so much of modern life by inventing new ways to connect without really getting how to, you know, actually connect.
For anyone who thinks that Fincher — best-known for dark thrillers and crime stories like “Seven” and “Zodiac” — might not be suited to this material, there are three things to note. One is that Fincher’s shot-on-digital-video style makes everything achingly, impressively dark. Harvard, where Zuckerberg first started coding what would become Facebook, looks as shadowed and haunted as a dungeon. Second is the fact that this is a crime story: Much of the film is occupied by two present-day lawsuits brought by separate parties left out of the Facebook revolution, and we watch as offhand ideas become computer code, as casual conversations become the foundation of billion-dollar businesses and as friends become litigants. Finally, “The Social Network” is fleet, funny and playful — more so than any Fincher film since “Fight Club,” and, like that film, in no small part because Fincher is equally suspicious of both the old order that must be overthrown and of the revolutionaries that would replace it.
The film swaggers with a bravado born of insecurity: Facebook begins on a night when Zuckerberg gets drunk and lashes out at the women of Harvard. All of them. Eisenberg — who can, occasionally, seem too clever and curiously detached on film — is perfectly cast as a man who is too clever, curious and detached, and delivers the performance of his career. Justin Timberlake, an actual pop star, scores as Sean Parker, a rock-star computer programmer who co-founded Napster and struck a blow to the music industry without, perhaps, actually thinking about what that would mean. Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin goes from friend to business partner to enemy, and Garfield makes you feel not only how much that hurts but also how much that was necessary. There are a lot of movies in the mix here — “Citizen Kane,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “All the President’s Men,” even “Animal House” — but it’s hardly an exercise in references for references’ sake. Sorkin and Fincher build an unflattering portrait of how we live now — and their acid-tongued, sharp-minded mean nerds, sniping at each other between coding sessions, make the best possible portrait of the greed, genius and gratuitous cruelty of the dot-com era. The nerds have attained their revenge, and it is not a kind or benevolent rule.
“The Social Network” is ultimately, like “The Great Gatsby,” a dissection of the contradictions in the American character — that you can be anything you want to be and yet that will somehow not be enough; that while you can reinvent yourself, you’ll still know who you are. (It’s worth noting that Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg never seems to attend the fabulous parties thrown in the name of his success, always on the other side of the glass from the fun.) There’s sex and drugs and HTML, but there’s also the feeling that Facebook, for all its value, may not be worth anything — aside from Farmville and birthday reminders, what does the site really offer us, and does it make us in any way better? After Zuckerberg is cruel online, Albright rages at him, “The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark — it’s written in ink.” And yet mistakes become empires, even when the empires make money through some sleight of hand where all they’re selling is some intangible feeling of coolness. At one point, a lawyer on the team defending Zuckerberg suggests how he’ll have to come out the bad guy just for purposes of the narrative: “Every creation myth needs a devil.” Not story, or history, but myth.
Fincher’s technical accomplishments are both visible (the murky look of the film matches the murky morals of the characters) and invisible (the all-American sons of privilege who are suing Zuckerberg and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are played by one actor, Armie Hammer, whose face is placed digitally onto another actor’s body). Sorkin’s dialogue skips over the surface of the film fleet and fast as a skipping stone, but you still feel the bigger concerns and broader points moving in the darkness and the depths below. Between the two of them, their collaboration’s a knockout punch of money, mythology, morality and the modern world. Cyndi Lauper once sang “Money Changes Everything” — a song she borrowed from another band, the Brains, and made a hit, thereby making it, in the eyes of many, her song — and that came to mind in the film’s final scene as Mark Zuckerberg sits alone in a conference room trying to get back in touch with his past in the only way he knows how. Money changes everything, except for the things it can’t, and the way “The Social Network” understands that contradiction to turn the personal feuds and legal battles of one business on the cutting edge of the here-and-now into a timeless and, yes, tragic story is why it’s a triumph.