Reel Rumbles #32: “The Social Network” vs. “The King’s Speech”
The Academy Awards are the film equivalent of the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Hollywood’s ultimate honour, the Oscars recognize – in theory – the pinnacle of cinematic achievement in a given year, while the film to take home the coveted award for Best Picture is immortalized in the halls of movie history. In just a few short days, the winners of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be announced, and as it so often does, the Best Picture race has come down to two critically acclaimed favourites. In one corner sits a charming and affecting period piece about a monarch learning to overcome a stutter; in the other, a striking, propulsive and meticulously calculated telling of the birth of a 21st century phenomenon. Reel Rumbles is proud to bring you a preview to the biggest and most anticipated showdown of the season… The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech.
Round One: Story
Both films are based on the lives of real individuals. Both films are also at least loosely connected via the theme of communication. However, in both of these regards, there are also some striking separations between this historical biopic and the somewhat less than accurate tale of the founding of a social networking behemoth.
One of the strongest parts of The King’s Speech is that it manages to make the struggles of its protagonist so incredibly relatable. The King of England is a figure far beyond the reach of the average moviegoer, but throughout the film we come to appreciate and sympathize with a man who has been prepared for greatness since birth, yet who cannot overcome the most human of problems. As we witness the friendship grow between the frustrated monarch and his quirky speech therapist, or see the love and understanding in the eyes of his steadfast wife, it slowly becomes clear that from the highest king to the lowliest peasant (or, as one character remarks, the lowliest actor), there are some things in life that are the same, no matter ones station.
The Social Network on the other hand does almost nothing to make its lead relatable, or even likeable. From the opening scene, Mark Zuckerberg is cold, calculating and singularly focused, to the point of total social ineptitude. How ironic, then, that he should go on to create a website that would come in just a few short years to define social interaction for hundreds of millions of users all around the globe. While The King’s Speech takes grand and regal surroundings and shrinks them down to a human level, The Social Network takes subject matter that on the surface seems mundane (how many of us dismissed this film as “The Facebook movie” before its release?) and blows it up into a Shakespearean tale of ambition and betrayal.
Furthermore, while The King’s Speech succeeds at making its contents identifiable, The Social Network deals with themes and issues that are astonishingly relevant to the audiences of today. Quick witted, abrasive, often dismissive and occasionally cruel, Mark Zuckerberg characterizes both the best and the worst characteristics of millions of internet users. The entire narrative hums with barely contained energy, as the untapped potential of a new generation surges to find its direction. The Social Network one of those rare movies that manages to be both timeless, and distinctively grounded in the era in which it was made. For that, it takes this round, 10-9.
Round Two: Script
No disrespect to The King’s Speech, but this round is pretty much over before it even begins. Written by David Seidler, the script for Tom Hooper’s film is generally quite strong. The film has a gentle humour to it that separates the more stately scenes of drama, while the relationships between each character – be it antagonistic or more familial – is firmly established through well written dialogue.
Aaron Sorkin’s script for The Social Network may be one of the very best screenplays of the new millennium. The dialogue zings along at a pace that it will leave audiences breathless, as characters exchange rapid fire conversations and deliver pointed barbs with a level unrepentant vigor and ironic humour that even the most lucid amongst us could not hope to articulate. Moreover, The Social Network never once falls into the trappings of the biopic, a crime of which Seidler’s script is at times unfortunately guilty. Rather than resorting to on screen subtitles to denote the passing of time, Sorkin frames his story through two separate lawsuits. Most of the action in The Social Network takes place in flashbacks, a technique that keeps the audience engaged and the narrative flowing.
There is also not an ounce of sentimental fat to be found on The Social Network’s lean frame. Again, while the dialogue The King’s Speech is generally strong, the third act does feature a couple of missteps; a few lines of “movie dialogue” meant more for the inspiration of the audience rather than for the characters who hear it. Conversely, while the dialogue in The Social Network undoubtedly exists in a heightened reality, it never once feels disingenuous coming from the mouths of the characters who speak it.
One place where The King’s Speech does land a few late blows is in the area of emotion. Arguably, that third act sentimentality does count for something, especially when its opposition seems to pride itself on being as icy and detached as its central protagonist. Small moments between Bertie and Lionel, or Bertie and his wife really give The King’s Speech an emotional poignancy that is lacking in large sections of David Fincher’s film. That being said, The Social Network does deliver one big uppercut in its climax. The devastating sequence in which Eduardo confronts Mark over his betrayal ensures that viewers will leave the film affected on more than just an intellectual level. And the remainder of Sorkin’s dialogue well and truly beats The King’s Speech into submission. Advantage The Social Network, 10-8
Round Three: Direction
Prior to this year’s Oscar race, I doubt anyone could have actually told you who directed The King’s Speech. Tom Hooper’s resume is made up predominantly of BBC costume dramas and HBO miniseries. However, his work on The King’s Speech has catapulted to the man into Hollywood’s upper echelons…at least, for now.
What Hooper does marvelously is establish scope. With as little as a single shot, be it of a foggy London street or the bizarre looking wallpaper on an office wall, Hooper lets his audience know the tone of the setting they are entering into. Scenes of intimacy are lent a gentle feel thanks to the movies warm cinematography and production design; by contrast, low angles and elaborate formal costumes dominate scenes of regality, making it easy to understand why Bertie feels so intimidated and overwhelmed. Hooper does tend to rely a little too heavily on fish-eye lenses however, and while it does provide a nice visual representation of the stifling nature of royal life, it does get a little repetitive at points.
But to be frank, Hooper never really had much of a chance here anyway. After all, he’s going up in this bout against one of the most meticulous and talented filmmakers working today. David Fincher has an astounding filmography that includes Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac. The Social Network adds something new to his repertoire: restraint. While in the nineties and early two-thousands he wowed us with technical wizardry and elaborate camera tricks, with The Social Network Fincher demonstrates he is capable of reigning himself in and producing a thrilling dramatic film with a darkly gorgeous aesthetic, without ever drawing attention to his technique.
The King’s Speech is certainly well made. But the propulsive quality and mesmerizing visual style that Fincher brings to The Social Network makes this another win for the Facebook movie, 10-8.
Round Four: Performances
The King’s Speech comes out swinging in this final round, offering up a captivating performance from Colin Firth that is as emotionally effective as it is technically astounding. Firth imbues his stuttering King with the perfect combination of reservation, rage, frustration and decency. The result is a truly flabbergasting piece of acting that, even putting aside the enormous difficulty that must be adopting and maintaining a convincing stammer deserves to be remembered. And come Oscar night, it no doubt will be.
But while the Firth’s heavyweight performance may seem imposing, you don’t have to look much further than Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg to see that this bout is far from a sure thing. Eisenberg’s performance is subtler to be sure, but watch closely and you’ll see that he is operating on a highly technical level; in every scene, even when he is not the focus, Eisenberg embodies the Mark Zuckerberg character with a wiry confidence and indifferent arrogance that makes this man – or at least, the fictional version of him – one of the most interesting characters of the entire year.
The supporting performances also do very little to help separate this race, in that they are both about as good as you can get. If its subtlety and nuance you want, look no further than Helena Bonham Carter, who takes a break from playing unrelenting nut-jobs to deliver a performance filled with love and self-moderation. Geoffrey Rush meanwhile, although not stretching far from his usual range, is endlessly likeable as speech therapist Lionel Logue. A whole score of veteran British actors round out the rest of the cast, making The King’s Speech a film with a very impressive pedigree.
What The Social Network has going for it is youth. Not only does the entire supporting cast deliver terrific performances, they do so without any of the experience of most actors working today. Justin Timberlake continues his transition from the music business into acting with the most impressive performance of his fledgling career. Armie Hammer does an astounding job of playing a set of fraternal twins, imbuing each of the Winklevoss brothers with their own distinctive personalities. Finally, Andrew Garfield is astounding as Mark’s best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, the character who really gives the film its emotional punch.
At the end of this round, it’s hard to find a single fault in the performances of either fighter. It’s all tied up at 10-10.
And The Winner Is…
The King’s Speech has charm, emotion and a fantastic, well established cast. But The Social Network is a film of the now. With a youthful cast, energizing director and an undeniable relevance to the filmgoers and internet users of today, it turns the most pedestrian premise and turns it into a superb, mature and perfectly crafted motion picture. Late indicators suggest The Academy may end up voting for the more traditional choice in Hooper’s film, but at Flickchart the fight has already been decided. Presenting your champion: The Social Network.