On a night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

Friendly fire.

The Social Network is a story of enmity and entitlement based around the circumstances of Facebook’s creation – or more specifically, based around the debate about the circumstances of Facebook’s creation. As Aaron Sorkin writes it and David Fincher depicts it, there’s no definitive 'truth’ about which of the warring three factions is the true inventor of the web phenomenon that has made 'friend’ a verb and invited millions of devotees to address their contacts in the third person.

Sorkin and Fincher can't be accused of letting the facts get 'in the way' of a good story; in fact they weave an entertaining fantasy out of the documented evidence that does exist about Facebook’s origins, and allow the immaturity, ambition and testosterone of the chief players to percolate just enough to fill in the blanks. Though history (and shareholding interests) might favour the bristly loner Mark Zuckerberg, it’s a fair bet that no two people will leave the cinema with a shared view of any of the key protagonists’ motivations (with the possible exception of the giant identical twins – but more about them later).

Sorkin’s script makes plain the inspired ironies that lie at the core of Facebook: (1) that an antisocial loner developed the means for enhanced social engagement for hundreds of millions of people; and (2) that an application which has enabled those hundreds of millions to forge, renew and/or strengthen friendships was born of a series of relationship breakdowns and petty jealousies.

The wall-to-wall dialogue of The Social Network is delivered with machine gun-like precision from lead actor Jesse Eisenberg, who is remarkable as the monotone Zuckerberg and who should garner awards attention (though his character’s lack of Oscar-friendly redemption could prove his Achilles’ heel). Director Fincher reportedly had his actors deliver the lines upwards of 80 and 90 times, in an effort to casualise the language. The resultant pepper-spray delivery keeps the audience on their toes and enhances the combative nature of the screenplay, especially with regard to Zuckerberg’s insightful insults and pre-emptive put-downs.

The Social Network’s seven-minute opener acts a two-handed harbinger; Zuckerberg confronts the reality of being dumped by a girlfriend (Rooney Mara) in a campus bar, with equal measures of indignation and arrogance (we’ll soon come to recognise these as his default responses to all forms of confrontation). The scene is awash with both the best and worst aspects of Sorkin’s trademark shouty-pithy-epithets and, probably mindful of this, director Fincher backs it up with a momentary pause from the showy wordplay to document Zuckerberg’s silent, sullen walk of shame back to his dorm. The two scenes complement both its co-creators’ styles, each working in tandem to depict the rich campus life that goes on around the insular misfit in the hoodie.

"It’s a credit to the combined efforts of Fincher and Sorkin that the dramatic tension can (more than once) culminate in the refreshing of a website."

In a beer-fuelled fit of pique, Zuckerberg commits the blogger’s equivalent of a drunk-dial, and hacks into the Harvard mainframe with a misogynistic game of 'hot or not’, which sparks interest in his hacking skills and forms the basis of a campus networking site that is a precursor to Facebook. Zuckerberg’s 'facemash’ exploits escalate his renown, and cause him to a) team with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and b) string along the Winklevoss twins, in the development of a dating site (which they later claim as the first Facebook). Suffice it to say, things go pear-shaped.

The victor may get the spoils, but he also gets the spoilsports, and some hilarious deposition scenes and competing flashbacks hypothesise the extent to which these Harvard-based partnerships were forged, and subsequently unravelled.

Where writer/producer Sorkin uses words as weapons, Fincher navigates dark psychological terrain with distinctive visual flair. (Think Fight Club, Zodiac and Se7en moreso than say, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which lacked the substance to back up the style.) At first he seemed an odd choice for what on paper reads like a courtroom drama with a choppy timeline, but Fincher’s dark sensibility zeroes in on the petty jealousies, misogynies and boy-crushes that fuel the passions of these disgruntled undergrads. Indeed, Fincher’s technical flair extends to the seamless mutation of two un-identical actors into the imposing, identical 6-foot-five Winklevoss twins, (or "The Winklevai" as Zuckerberg dismissively refers to his matching accusers).

The fly in the Zuckerberg/Saverin ointment is one Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the self-styled entrepreneurial dynamo whose refusal to 'sell out’ to advertisers pits him against business development manager Saverin. They may be on college hiatus at the time, but in Zuckerberg’s eyes, Parker is very much the Big Man on Campus, and Timberlake employs his pop star showmanship to embody a flashback figment of Zuckerberg’s infatuation and of Severin’s resentment.

It is a credit to all that a compelling character study is drawn from such unlikeable boys and their adolescent jealousies and frustrations (and yes, they are all boys, bar Zuckerberg’s ex, a few hysterical party girls, and the token casting of Rashida Jones’ character as an audience substitute/second-tier aide to Zuckerberg’s legal team). It’s also a credit to the combined efforts of Fincher and Sorkin that the dramatic tension can (more than once) culminate in the refreshing of a website.

No stranger to hyperbole, Sorkin infuses his prose with the all-empowering wisdom of hindsight; his leads are seen to greet the launch of their websites with hushed tones ('the site’s live") and Facebook’s viral crossing of the Atlantic is met with stony-faced gravitas. To be fair, these are people who freely admit to having 'helped change the world, at least three times", so perhaps Sorkin’s rendition of this 'chicken-eat-chicken’ world of competitive self-aggrandisement isn’t that far off the mark.