Film Reviews: “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network”

Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech,” which played at this year’s Dartmouth showing of the Telluride Film Festival.“The King’s Speech”

By Benjamin M. Riley

Often it seems that the Hopkins Center’s programming is geared more towards cultured denizens of the Upper Valley than Dartmouth students. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as most students could use a little more culture than they are currently getting, but nonetheless the fact remains that the Hop has struggled to provide programming that is both culturally relevant and entertaining. With the Telluride at Dartmouth film series, now in its twenty-fifth year, however, the Hop does just that. Bringing some of the best films from the prestigious Telluride Film Festival to Hanover, the series is proof of just how positive a force the Hop can be in the lives of Dartmouth students. In screening films that have not even been released to the public, the Hop provides a special chance for students to get their culture fix. We all knew it was a cultural bargain coming to school here in the great north, but the Hop has, at least with this series, a true hit on its hands.

Perhaps the most buzzed-about film from Telluride this year is “The King’s Speech,” a historical drama directed by Tom Hooper, of the excellent HBO miniseries “John Adams” and assorted other British work. Set in the period leading up to the Second World War, “The King’s Speech” is the true story of Britain’s King George VI and his struggle with a speech impediment. 

Having won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, there was a considerable amount of hype floating around the film – I had even heard the term Oscar bandied about. With a stellar cast of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, as the king and his speech therapist respectively, The King’s Speech was certainly the gem of the Telluride at Dartmouth series. And with only two screenings, at 4:00 and 7:00 on a Friday evening, a large crowd was ensured. 

Only planning to see a single film in the series, I neglected to buy the multi-film pass, which would have allowed me to enter Spaulding Auditorium ahead of single-ticket holders. This was a mistake. Immediately upon arriving at 3:45 for the 4:00 show, I was faced with a snaking line of unbelievable length. Luckily the employees of the Hop managed the queue well and I was seated well in time for the show – albeit in the front of the theatre and off to the side. It could have been worse. In a full auditorium, somebody will always have a worse seat than you.

After a few short remarks by the director of the film series, the movie began. And what a movie it was. Any Oscar buzz that is floating around is wholly deserved – this film is a tour de force. Opening with a cringe-worthy scene of the King (then crown prince) attempting to deliver a closing speech to a huge crowd at Wembley Stadium, the movie immediately establishes a somber tone that it carries throughout the entirety of its 111 minutes. It is set in dreary pre-WWII Britain, after all. There is a sense of dread carried by all characters, but especially Colin Firth’s “Bertie,” as his family and speech therapist would call him. 

And the dread is to be expected – what a fate to be one of the most public figures and at the same time terribly afraid of even leaving your home. And so Bertie seeks help, first from royally mandated doctors and later from the man who will become his lifeline, Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue. An Australian without any medical credentials, Logue works in unorthodox ways. He makes Bertie sing and curse, for when doing these, his awful stammer disappears. 

The greatest scenes in the movie are those moments of catharsis when the two men are alone in Logue’s home/office. Though he has a serious temper, one cannot help but root for Bertie to conquer his stuttering demons. It is human nature to root for the underdog, and although one might deem the Prince of Wales an unlikely underdog, that is exactly what Bertie is. Unloved by his cold father, the estimable Michael Gambon’s King George V, and tormented by his older brother, Edward VIII, Bertie is the lame duck of the royal family. So when his older brother, played by Guy Pearce, decides to abdicate so that he may marry the uncouth American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Bertie has no choice but to seek more of Logue’s wacky help. As I said, it is truly the scenes of treatment which make the movie. 

Of course the costuming is wonderful and the scenery is equally impressive. Yet at the end of the day, movies must be driven by a story. And “The King’s Speech” is nothing less than the most compelling story likely to be seen in theatres this year. Yes, there is the requisite sappiness that comes with a story of this nature. But this sentiment of the movie is never trite. Rather, it is effectively communicated through the tired eyes of Colin Firth, the worried lines that appear on his wife’s head, and those tense moments leading up to any public speaking appearance that the King must make. 

Therefore there is none of the insincerity which plagues movies of this type. While the characters are of great stature, there is an intimacy to the movie which truly connects the audience and creates a sense of investment in the outcome. At almost two hours in running time, “The King’s Speech” could easily have dragged on and gotten too big for its britches. It doesn’t, though, as it always remains grounded. Ultimately it is the story of two disparate individuals working towards a common goal. And when that goal is met — when Bertie triumphs at last — well, I daresay there was not a dry eye in the house.

“The Social Network”

By Stuart Allan

You know a movie is good when time and place fluxes out of existence and only the screen remains. “The Social Network” — a gripping psychological thriller directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin — deftly depicts the saga of Mark Zuckerburg, played by Jesse Eisenberg. Fincher immediately sets the tone of the movie in the opening scene by using a fast-paced dialogue between Zuckerburg and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend that would only sound natural to those in the internet generation.  The quick pace set in the opening only speeds up, whisking the viewer on a mental roller-coaster ride as Facebook grows from a drunken idea to a multibillion-dollar operation. 

Despite my rather otherwise dim view of Jesse Eisenberg’s ability as an actor, he fills the socially awkward, backstabbing, and egotistical shoes of Mark Zuckerburg as if they were his own.  Mark is portrayed as a middle-class Harvard student who is constantly jealous of others’ achievements. In the brutally competitive world of Harvard where status, recognition and which final club you belong to are everything, Mark has a lot to be jealous about.  After a late-night, alcohol-fueled hacking session, Mark’s abilities as a coder are recognized by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) who recruit him to create Harvard Connection. 

Mark, inspired by the idea, enlists the help of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), his roommate, to construct a similar website called TheFacebook. The Winklevosses, or Winklevi as Mark calls them, sue over intellectual property theft. As Facebook grows, pressure builds between Mark (the CEO) and Saverin (the CFO). Enter Justin Timberlake who exquisitely plays Sean Parker, the charismatic party boy with a vision who started Napster. Sean forcefully tears the final bonds between Mark and Saverin by seducing the bright, not so street-smart Mark to Silicon Valley. This leads to an explosive end to Mark and Saverin’s friendship as Saverin is squeezed out of the business and another lawsuit ensues.  Fincher artfully alternates between two ongoing lawsuits against Mark, and flashbacks to the events that prompted them.

Fincher shamelessly tries to enhance the natural legal and business drama with a forcefully dramatic score that often seems excessive. Nevertheless, Fincher did a wonderful job in appealing to most audiences.  

Despite the definite lean towards the business and legal side, this movie is really about the interactions between people, particularly the interactions between the haughty Mark Zuckerberg and others. 

Fincher also changes up the scenery constantly, providing enough stimulation for all but the most easily bored to be placated. He throws the viewer from dorm rooms to boardrooms, house parties, bathroom hookups, San Francisco’s nightclubs, English regattas, and weird Harvard hazing rituals.

It was all enough to make a friend of mine comment at the end, “That movie makes me want to go invent sh*t.“ One of the film’s big takeaways is that one only goes to college to make money. The idea of going to college to gain an education for education’s sake is sneeringly dismissed:  when one can invent, cheat, and steal one’s way to making ‘millions, or something even cooler, a billion,’ who needs learning? In that sense, Zuckerberg makes the perfect protagonist for a morality play set in the aimless Aughts. While “The Social Network” certainly shows the upside of greed and obsession as Zuckerburg gets incredibly rich, the movie ends with a hard twist; though Mark has millions of friends on Facebook, he is left with none in real life.

“The Social Network” renders only one white character in a world filled with black and grey ones. Eduardo Saverin is depicted as the overly naïve but well-intentioned hero who gets betrayed by his best friend, Mark. 

This portrayl of Saverin, as well as the portrayl of Zuckerberg, have been challenged by many who know details of the early days of Facebook, and those who know either person in real life. This has sparked some controversy in the papers debating the accuracy of the details, and the amount of Hollywoodization the facts went though. Considering the bad light in which Zucherberg’s character is represented, the supposedly philanthropic motive behind his recent $100 million donation to New Jersey schools is being questioned. 

Regardless of the movie’s accuracy, Fincher has created a piece of art. The acting was all in all excellent, most notably Justin Timberlake’s delightfully fun performance as Sean Parker.  This movie can be called the true start of Timberlake’s acting career.  

Though painfully over-dramatized at times, “The Social Network” is an exciting cerebral journey as Fincher pulls you through a world of creation, betrayal, obsession and greed. Go watch it — and then go home and “like” it immediately.