Of the many revelations in director David Fincher's 2007 thriller Zodiac, perhaps the most surprising was that Fincher could so easily sustain, for more than two hours, the suspense provoked by murders committed in the first 20 minutes. Following its violent beginnings, the film—based on the hunt for the serial Zodiac killer who haunted the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early '70s—contained no shootouts or car chases or fisticuffs, and boasted one of the talkiest scripts in recent mainstream cinema. Yet its 150 minutes flew by as if they were half that: the clinical police procedural as narrative wind sprint.
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Following his interesting (if only intermittently successful) detour into curatorial biography with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher has now completed the lesson he began with Zodiac: it turns out that the onetime director of Alien 3 and Se7en can keep us on the edge of our seats without any murders at all.
The vehicle for this validation is Fincher's latest film, The Social Network, which tells the story of social-media goliath Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. We first meet Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) as a sophomore at Harvard in 2003, in the process of being dumped by his girlfriend, Erica. (This is what in fables of geek superherodom is called a "creation myth.") Mark is brilliant and inept, needy and condescending, hyper-confident and pathologically defensive—traits that tumble out atop one another like Keystone Kops exiting a squad car. Over the course of a few minutes, his hopscotch patter lights upon, and then abandons, such motley subjects as Harvard final clubs, the crew team, and the number of genius IQs in China. Bemoaning the exhausting, elliptical nature of their interactions, Erica (Rooney Mara) tells Mark, "Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster." Little wonder she decides to step off.