I tried to read very little before seeing “The Social Network.” It was bad enough hearing about the buzz and reading so many glowing praises on Twitter. I think that damaged part of my initial experience with the film, as any overbearing hype will do for a work that just can’t live up to the resultant expectations. But as I was watching and feeling quite apathetic to all that was happening on screen, suddenly the regatta sequence set to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” happened, and I internally applauded the movie for finally surprising me with something fresh. I’ve since thought about more and more things I like about “The Social Network,” but while in the theater I mostly only enjoyed scenes featuring the Winklevoss Twins — aka “the Winklevi” as the Mark Zuckerberg character calls them. In addition to that mentioned depiction the 2004 Grand Challenge Cup, the duo are involved in some of the film’s funniest moments, including a bit with Larry Summers (Harvard president at the time) and a throwaway joke for viewers familiar with “The Karate Kid.”
In the role of both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Armie Hammer is quite terrific and gaining a lot of praise for the “scene-stealing” performance more than a few are calling Oscar-worthy. Despite my desire to avoid reviews before seeing the movie, I had slightly glanced at a post over at Cinematical and noticed Hammer being credited to the dual role. But it took me a few minutes to recall this credit, after which I turned to my fiancee during a Winklevi scene and whispered, “I think both those twins are the same actor.” She didn’t believe me, and after her dismissal I wondered if I remembered correctly, because it sure didn’t look like there was any kind of special effect being employed. And why would there be? Finally, though, we saw the end credit roll and saw Hammer’s name next to “Cameron/Tyler Winklevoss” while another actor, Josh Pence, was also credited as “Tyler Winklevoss.”
Of course the first thing we Googled after leaving the Facebook movie was “Armie Hammer Winklevoss Twins.” And we learned the whole deal about how Hammer — great-grandson of oil tycoon Armand Hammer and also portrayer of Billy Graham in a 2008 biopic — played the double role by having his face digitally placed onto the head of Pence, who was primarily a body double. In interviews, Hammer gives a greater amount of credit to Pence, who contributed to the physical performances of the characters, while also celebrating the benefits of doubles for this kind of effect, since he had someone to act opposite. But I think it’s the man whose face we see who should get the majority of the accolades. Its his expressions and voice that define the physically identical twins as separate characters, personality-wise. While the digital effects made the process look seamless, Hammer is the one who ultimately made me question my memory. I even literally had the thought that I must have mis-read the guy’s name and it had been written in a form like, “Armie and ___ Hammer.”
And that’s just how director David Fincher wants it to be, not only seamless and unnoticeable but relatively unaddressed. He thinks if we go into the movie knowing that’s one actor doing double duty that we’ll be looking for flaws in the effect or that we’ll distracted thinking about the concept. Maybe not as much as during the early parts of Fincher’s last film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but on some lesser level. “The Social Network” is not a special effects movie. And yet the fact that the special effects are utilized solely to service the narrative and isn’t gratuitous makes it more an admirable achievement. Will the Academy think so? I’m not certain they favor movies with big spectacular visual effects and don’t care if they’re of precedence to their films’ plots, but I do doubt they reward such subtle work, particularly when the filmmakers and artists don’t call a lot of attention to their effort. So it’s unlikely “The Social Network” will get a visual effects nomination along with its many acting nods.
However, there is the argument (my fiancee brought up to me) that the effect was not necessarily servicing the plot. That it wasn’t even necessary at all. That Fincher was just having fun with an effect just to do it, perhaps just to have some visual effect in the film and maybe show off a little when he finally talked about it. I guess it is true that another set of 6’5″ WASPy twins could have been found to portray the Winklevosses (pictured in real-life above). Maybe they would be working actors, or maybe not. I don’t think it would have been that easy, though — at least not any two who could have done as well as Hammer does. Still, will the visual effects branch of the Academy be interested in effects that could somewhat seem to be extraneous?
Meanwhile, there’s also a problem for Hammer’s chances with Oscar if not enough Academy members know about the trick. They could just believe the two separately credited actors were equally responsible, and therefore the interest in honoring the performance(s) will be confused and split. Unfortunately, Hammer is not well-known like Nicolas Cage, who earned a nod in 2003 for his work as twins in “Adaptation.” And unfortunately if the clarifying information about the actor’s work is properly distributed, some members might actually place the achievement more on the visual effects side, splitting the possibility of a nomination by spreading votes between the Supporting Actor and Visual Effects categories. It’s like how the Academy recognized the effects involved in the performances of all Na’vi characters in “Avatar” rather than the actors, especially the much-deserving Zoe Saldana. Then again, I think there was similar question about whether Brad Pitt would be nominated for his effects-supported performance in “Benjamin Button,” and he ended up getting the nom (though he didn’t win like the visual effects team did). So, I guess there is room for both aspects to be honored in next years awards.
What do you find the greater achievement in the portrayal of the Winklevoss twins, the acting performance or the visual effects?
Ironically, for all the big things that Fincher’s FX team nailed in Social Network, it was something very small that tripped them up: the CG cold breath that was very obviously added in postproduction whenever the characters spoke to each other outside on chilly Harvard nights. Ostentatiously visible and swirly, it proved that facial-mapping features may have come a long way since the last decade, but the computer programs that generate plumes of cold breath haven’t been revamped since Titanic. A director with fewer resources at his disposal might have eschewed the effect entirely, shot on a colder soundstage, or had the actors swallow ice before delivering their lines, but Fincher is the type who thinks he can get anything in postproduction (and is only right to a point). The cold-breath effect is so weird and jarring that it’s a relief when the setting moves to the warmer climes of Palo Alto, since there’s no threat there of Jesse Eisenberg being upstaged by his own breath.