"The Social Network" opens in NY to buzz, controversy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Billed as an exhilarating, visceral tale about the founding of Facebook, “The Social Network” gave the opening of the New York Film Festival on Friday an aura of anticipation and a touch of controversy.

Actor Jesse Eisenberg arrives at the premiere of "The Social Network" in New York, September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The film has attracted widespread attention with its assertion that it tells the true story of the birth of the website -- which now boasts more than 500 million members and is worth tens of billions. Yet, it is based on a book criticized for its reporting methods.

One of the most talked about films of the year, “The Social Network” was transformed into a movie by Hollywood heavyweight director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin. It has brought an unusual pizzazz to the 17-day film festival, which typically emphasizes the art of cinema over Hollywood-style premieres.

“This movie is absolutely a true story, but with the catch that people disagree about what the truth was and the movie takes no position on what the truth is. It presents everybody’s story,” Sorkin, best known for his TV hit “The West Wing,” told Reuters.

The movie opens across the United States October 1, telling the rags-to-riches tale of how Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was transformed from an intelligent, socially awkward Harvard University student to the hottest property in Silicon Valley for creating the online community.

It intersperses scenes of depositions taken for lawsuits by Zuckerberg’s former best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, as well as by Olympic rowing twin brothers and former Harvard students Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss.

Both lawsuits resulted in undisclosed large settlements.

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Zuckerberg, now 26, is not expected at Friday’s premiere. He refused to cooperate with the film and told Oprah Winfrey on her chat show on Friday, “It’s a movie, it’s fun” but his life was not so dramatic.

Now worth $6.9 billion according to Forbes, Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey schools on Friday, deflecting some media attention from the film’s premiere.


Zuckerberg also refused to cooperate with the book upon which the film is based, Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires -- The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal.” Some critics blasted it as frivolous for featuring too much narrative and not enough fact.

The movie stars 26-year-old Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Facebook CFO Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Napster creator and Internet wunderkind Sean Parker. None of the characters are portrayed in an altogether positive light.

Fincher, know for such hit movies as “Fight Club,” Se7en” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” said he knew the film would be controversial when he took it on, but he refused to do a “cuddly” portrayal of Zuckerberg.

“I knew it was controversial,” said Fincher. “I like the fact that he is prickly and smarter than everybody and makes no apologies for it.”

Fincher declined to say if he views the movie as a true story or a work of fiction, saying only that fact-based movies have to take the perspective of certain characters.

Whether fact or fiction, early reviews have been good. Critic Todd McCarthy said of the movie, “Everything about it is rich.” And the quick-witted and speedy dialogue of Sorkin’s script has garnered early Oscar chatter.

Fincher said the film addressed wider themes of friendship, loyalty, jealousy and power.

“It’s not the story of a website, it’s the story of a time and a place and the friendship, a bunch of dreamers and a bunch of people who saw what the future was going to be like, and tried to capitalize on it and the acrimony that broke out between them,” said Fincher.

editing by Mark Egan and Bob Tourtellotte