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David Fincher pokes Facebook in his terrific new movie

David Fincher's best movies fall somewhere between fantasy and reality. From Se7en's serial-killer noir and Fight Club's identity-disorder nihilism to the obsessive and overlooked Zodiac and even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's bewildered man-child, Fincher has assembled quite a filmography over the past two decades. It's no accident he got his start making music videos; Madonna and Aerosmith practically built their own fantasy worlds.

The Social Network, Fincher's latest movie and one of his best, is firmly rooted in reality, even though almost all of the characters live in a fantasy world of their own making. The true story is based on the rise of Facebook — in particular, the struggle between creator Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and those around him who want a piece of the action.

The story begins in 2003 in a bar near Harvard, where Zuckerberg is a sophomore. The soon-to-be youngest billionaire in the world is talking to his girlfriend. Rather, he's talking down to her, throwing around his mental weight. Seconds after breaking up with him, she tells him: Girls don't like you because you're a nerd; they don't like you because you're an asshole.

Zuckerberg is a smart guy, but he's also a smartass. His few friends don't like him so much as they tolerate him. His best friend is his computer. After he's dumped, he goes back to his room and posts a blog rant about his ex. Soon after, he and his roommate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man), are hacking his school's database, running scripts, and blasting the entire university with a which-classmate-is-hotter e-mail.

The prank — which nets 22,000 hits in a mere few hours — gets Zuckerberg in trouble with Harvard administrators (and pisses off more than a few girls on campus). More important: It attracts the attention of two snobby classmates, twin brothers who hire Zuckerberg to set up a social-network website aimed exclusively at Harvard students. But Zuckerberg has other ideas. He takes the concept and, together with economics-major Saverin's investment money, starts work on his own social-network site. And Facebook is born.

Computer geeks. Code. Guys sitting in deposition hearings. None of this should make for a riveting movie, but The Social Network is one of the most exciting films you'll see this year. Once Facebook (which now connects 500 million people) catches on, Zuckerberg and his pals create a fantasyland for themselves, complete with groupies. It's totally surreal. And so are the scenes in the deposition rooms, where Zuckerberg is being sued by both the twins and Saverin.

Fincher's deft touch guides the story from one point to the next. It's his most humane movie and an exhilarating piece of storytelling (Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay based on a book by Ben Mezrich). By the time Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder Sean Parker, enters the picture, you'll be hooked on Eisenberg's great performance, the thrilling narrative, and the movie's nonstop momentum. It's almost as addictive as Facebook.

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