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By now you've heard a lot about just how great The Social Network is, and all of its true. In a broad sense it's a great film, a rare movie that's actually about something bigger than itself. But a large part of why it's good is the kind of performances director David Fincher gets from his young actors. They're so good that, even though it's only nearly October we're ready to go out on a limb and start predicting Oscar nominations, not just for one or two of the Social Network actors, but three of them.
One of these actors is also one of the biggest pop stars in the world and, shockingly, he may be even better at acting than he is at singing. Another is the new Spider-Man. The third was, till now, probably best known as a low-rent Michael Cera clone. Pretty much no one saw this coming yet all three deserve recognition. Rather than wait for Oscar season, we're starting the campaign to get it for them early. After you see The Social Network this weekend, we hope you'll jump on the bandwagon with us and root for these three on their way to the Academy Awards. Here's our attempt to explain why all of them deserve at the least, a nomination.
Confidence is something Justin Timberlake comes by naturally, a byproduct perhaps, of being born with so much talent. So playing Sean Parker might seem like a slam dunk for Timberlake. The Napster founder turned Facebook executive oozes confidence to the point of cockiness. On the surface he's Mark Zuckerberg's polar opposite, a man who can dominate any conversation and instantly become the center of attention anywhere he goes. But spends a few moments with Sean Parker and you'll start to see something else. Unlike Timberlake, confidence isn't something he comes by naturally.
Timberlake plays him as though the man we see is nothing more than an elaborately constructed façade. He's a mover and a shaker, and people accept him as the coolest person they know. That works for awhile, until they start to see through it. You get the sense in watching Timberlake's performance that Sean Parker doesn't believe any of his bullshit himself, that he's secretly terrified of spinning out of control and ending up in obscurity, even while he's drinking champagne, banging his way through groups of teenage girls, and making grandiose promises.
Timberlake's performance, perhaps in part because of his background as a dancer, is in the way he moves. His posture is always too perfect, his movements too exact, as if he's a man who's thought out everything he'll do in advance, as if he's only going through pre-programmed motions. He's a puppet pulling his own strings. And eventually, when Parker finally really does lose control, Timberlake captures him as a man waking up from a dream he doesn't want to end. He fast talks into the phone attempting to convince Zuckerberg that nothing has changed, but his fading expression, the way he pulls at his hair, the panic in his voice says something else. Justin Timberlake lets Sean Parker fall apart slowly on screen and as the character creates more and more bullshit you'll see it in his eyes that he never believed most of it and even though he's one of the cool kids, Parker's driven by the same insecurity that drives Zuckerberg, the desperate feeling that he's always on the outside looking in. Sean Parker may always be the center of attention, but Justin Timberlake portrays him as a man who secretly knows he's operating on the fringe.
The key to Andrew Garfield seems to be in his shoulders. He's such a skinny guy, with a soft voice and unassumingly handsome features, that the broad shoulders seem to be holding him up unnaturally, and without them he'd crumple to the floor, too weak, too insubstantial to stand by his own power. He overplayed this vulnerability a bit too much in Never Let Me Go, playing a young man whose fate was out of his control and who simply closed himself off as a result. But in The Social Network, playing the good-hearted and utterly overwhelmed Eduardo Saverin, Garfield straightens his shoulders and his gaze to create the film's complex moral center.
In the hands of another actor, Eduardo could simply be a victim, dazzled by Mark Zuckerberg's confidence and strung along on the Facebook project until cruelly shut out of the profits years later. But Garfield imbues Eduardo with a natural ease and grace that Mark lacks; we know instantly that he's better with girls and more popular among guys, and it's a hidden geekiness, not just sympathy, that draws him to Mark. Their unlikely friendship is the heart of the film, and with Eisenberg portraying the cold, unmoved Zuckerberg, it's up to Garfield to show us all the pain it causes both boys when the friendship falls apart.
Aaron Sorkin's script is widely credited for creating these complex characters, but Garfield's two best scenes are silent: the tears in his eyes when Mark asks him to come back to California and help build Facebook, and the slow rage building on his face when he learns he's been cut out of the company. Eduardo always wears dapper suits, always knows the right thing to say, but Garfield's gangly shoulders and wide open face always betray his startling youth. The Social Network is about boys trying to be titans, and Garfield nails the performance by constantly seeming caught between the two.
When discussing the work of Jesse Eisenberg, it's not uncommon for same words and phrases to pop up: “weakling,” “nebbish,” “Michael Cera Clone.” They're not exactly wrong. Looking at his previous work in films like Zombieland and Adventureland, he's guilty of playing repetitive characters. In The Social Network, however, not only does he flip this reputation on its ear, he puts on one of the best performances by a lead actor that we will see all year.
Front and center on the stage of David Fincher's film, Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg is a powerful and captivating character. He's bull-headed and brilliant, but what makes Eisenberg's performance truly noteworthy is how sympathetic he is. Over the course of the film, Zuckerberg alienates his girlfriend with elitist and piggish remarks, sacrifices and destroys his relationship with his best friend to better help the company he founded while betraying former business partners. Yet, by the end of the film's two hour run time you sympathize with Zuckerberg because of his incredible dedication to his creation and an inability to overcome his own personality flaws. Eisenberg's performance is simply that great.
Zuckerberg is emotionally crippled by his drive which Eisenberg fuels with a cold stoicism. So much of the character is defined in his silence and mannerisms that when he does finally react to something it hits you like a shotgun blast – even though you never get the sense that he has lost control. He spits acid with precision, his words are never jumbled and he never says anything he doesn't mean. Eisenberg doesn't control the character and as much as he becomes him. It's simply flawless.