The Social Network and Wall Street: Business means never having to say you’re sorry

by Mark Burger

The Social Network, the screen adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s best-seller about the foundation and formation of Facebook, marks a dynamic teaming of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and it’s covered in intelligent, absorbing fashion.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard student who was “inspired” to create a social-networking website after being dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). With the help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s idea begins to take flight — and draw attention, first nationally and then internationally.

As bright and creative as these people are, they really are still just kids, with a tendency to step blithely into trouble without even realizing it. In some cases, however, they step into trouble figuring that no one else will call them on it — a folly of youth (and, indeed, ego) that leads to larger, nastier problems for all concerned.

The film’s real-life characters have been vividly realized without being unnecessarily vilified. In addition to Eisenberg’s career-best performance as Zuckerberg, there’s solid work from Garfield as the increasingly overwhelmed Saverin; Armie Hammer and Josh Pence as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twin brothers who want their piece of the Facebook pie; and Justin Timberlake (very good indeed) as Napster founder Sean Parker, whose fast-talking self assurance quickly wooed Zuckerberg his way.

Many of these characters come off as selfish and venal, but never beyond the realm of credibility. The Social Network has the ring, and sting, of truth to it.

The film follows Facebook from idea to innovation to litigation, merrily bouncing back and forth in time without ever losing its focus or narrative drive. Fincher’s direction and Sorkin’s screenplay are so sharp and assured that not once is the story bogged down by the legal and technical jargon. Everything fits together, just right.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps re-teams Michael Douglas and director Oliver Stone some 23 years since they struck box-office gold, and Douglas found Oscar gold as Best Actor, in Wall Street.

Once again, Stone and his screenwriters (Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff) use actual events in the financial world, in this case the government’s unprecedented 2008 Wall Street bailout, to add relevance to the story. Also again, the crux of the story is a father/ son, teacher/student motif between Wall Street wizard Gordon Gekko (Douglas, of course) and an ambitious young stock trader, this time one Jake Stone (Shia LaBeouf … who also happens to be engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Having spent eight years in prison for insider trading, Gekko has penned a best-selling memoir about his time at the top, yet there’s the unmistakable sense that there’s nothing he’d like better to do than get back in the game. That’s where Jake comes in.

The film’s characters tend to be rendered in cut-and-dried terms. As Jake’s mentor, Frank Langella’s Louis Zabel is a man of wisdom unswerving integrity — and therefore doomed in the current cutthroat atmosphere. Josh Brolin’s Bretton James is essentially this generation’s Gordon Gekko, a financial hotshot who is shrewd, savvy and without conscience. Naturally, he’s the bad guy — although he’s having plenty of fun being bad. Winnie Gekko represents Jake’s voice of reason — and the film has almost no idea what to do with her. Needless to say, Jake’s ambitions will get the better of him, forcing him to rethink his priorities.

If any of this seems familiar, it should — it’s basically a rehash of the original Wall Street. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you liked the first film, you get more of the same. (This is a sequel, after all.)

Much as the original film’s overall impact was somewhat muted by the romance between Charlie Sheen and Daryl Hannah in the story, so too is this film’s by the onscreen relationship between LaBeouf and Mulligan, which too often becomes a drag on the proceedings. Despite reports that the actors have become an off-screen item, they don’t generate much chemistry onscreen. Mulligan seems perpetually on the verge of tears much of the time.

Yet there’s an undiluted pleasure in watching Douglas, proudly wearing his years, back in action as Gekko, one of the iconic performances of his career and one of the iconic characters of its era. Gekko may be a lion in winter, but he’s still got teeth — and they’re plenty sharp. Little surprise that Douglas dominates every scene he’s in, and even a few in which he’s not — and that’s as it should be.

Oozing arrogance, Brolin is clearly enjoying himself as the reptilian James, and there’s a splendidly showy role for the inimitable Eli Wallach as a last bastion of old-school Wall Street wizardry, one who has seen it all and done it all — and who still has a few tricks up his sleeve. There’s also a priceless (and wellpublicized) cameo appearance by Sheen, and a needless one by Susan Sarandon as Jake’s mother, a character that could easily, painlessly been eliminated altogether.

Movie times are listedhere.