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story.lead_photo.caption Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) live the high life in David Fincher’s The Social Network.

— There’s a line toward the end of The Social Network where a lawyer says, “Every creation myth needs a devil.” It’s not hard to find the devil in this film. His name is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, a 26-year-old billionaire and, if The Social Network is to be believed, a backstabbing jerk.

He’s also the guy you can thank for providing your Aunt Margaret with a place online to post updates on her cat’s health and her frustration with the lack of decent musicon the radio nowadays.

It’s easy to see why Zuckerberg and Facebook officials are upset with the filmmakers.

Of course, this is a movie, not a history lesson, so looking for the truth up there on that screen isn’t the wisest thing. You’ve got to understand that some of this stuff - which has been adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich - has most likely been embellished.

But what we have is a film loaded with the things that made America great - entrepreneurial pluck, gobs of money, overnightsuccess and ruthless betrayal. It’s a timeless story and director David Fincher, working from an excellent script by Aaron Sorkin, has captured it well.

Jesse Eisenberg is Zuckerberg, an intense, highly intelligent, socially inept Harvard student desperate to move up. When his girlfriend, in a mesmerizing, dialoguedriven opening scene in a noisy bar, breaks up with him (“talking to you is like talking to a Stairmaster,” she says), Zuckerbergretreats to his dorm room and his blog, unleashing his anger and hurt on the screen. He also quickly lashes together a crude website where users can rank female students according to their attractiveness, and crashes the campus system.

His antics, and the ensuing notoriety, bring him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins (played with proper Ivy League upper-crustiness by Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), who have an idea for a Harvard-based social website.

Zuckerberg has other plans, however, and with financial help from his friend Eduardo Saverin (well played by Andrew Garfield), he begins work in his dorm room on a site called Thefacebook.com, which is an immediate hit.

The twins and their partner, Divya (Max Minghella), accuse Zuckerberg of stealing their ideas, and soon lawyers are involved.

And, while Facebook grows (it will eventually amass half a billion users, though the movie ends not long after the millionth user is logged), so does the chasm between the noncompromising Zuckerberg and the business-oriented Saverin, who is ready to see the venture actually bring in money along with all those new users.

When Zuckerberg becomes entranced by the flash of Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in a fine role), his relationship with Saverin, Facebook’s original chief financial officer, who sank $19,000 of his own dough into the venture, unravels and Saverin sues.

The story is told through flashbacks that weave between a couple of different deposition hearings. It’s hard to follow at first, but once Fincher finds his groove, it’s pretty seamless.

Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) brings his moody feel to the film’s look. It would have been easy to make a movie about an Internet phenomenon splashy and pixelly and bright. Fincher, staying true to form, leans toward the grays and the shadows.

Eisenberg is fascinating.Certainly he’s good at playing uncomfortable dorks (see Adventureland, The Squid and the Whale or Zombieland), but his Zuckerberg is a much deeper character. Beneath that blunt awkwardness is a raging intelligence and drive to prove himself - to Erica, the girl who dumped him, and to theHarvard jocks and rich kids like the Winklevosses (or “the Winklevi,” as Zuckerberg drolly refers to them in one of several surprisingly funny lines).

He is a wonder to watch, even when he is destroying those closest to him. There are shots of him where his dark eyes burn with a riveting contempt and there are times when you just want to shake him and tell him to slow down and listen to someone else for a minute.

He’s like a code-writing Gordon Gekko, except instead of greed being good, being cool is the priority of Facebook.

It’s also fascinating to see a young man whose social skills are so poor revolutionize the way people interact with each other online. Facebook has changed the way people relate to each other, the way things are marketed to us, the way people get information about us and even the way we talk (“I’ll ‘friend’ you”). And it’s not all pretty.

It’s like if there was a critical film made about Henry Ford and the Model T in 1912.

There have been reports that a few changes had been made to the film to appease Facebook officials. Still, the portrait isn’t exactly flattering, and how much of it is true is up for debate.

Excuse me now while I check my Facebook page.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 10/01/2010

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