On paper, the story of a couple of geeks setting up a website doesn't exactly sound like thrilling fare, even to fans of that particular social networking site. But how wrong you'd be to dismiss what turns out to be a very clever and compelling movie.

Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is introduced to us as a socially awkward, know-it-all geeky-type, with very little charm. His long-suffering girlfriend Erica (Mara) has had enough of his brutal insensitivity, while his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) may be the only person who both tolerates and understands him. Zuckerberg is someone who lives his life online, with no sense of regret about those he slates in his blogs or what site he chooses to hack for his own entertainment.

From the outset he comes off as a genius, excelling in the classroom but completely incapable of engaging in the elements of the Harvard campus lifestyle that most of his peers enjoy. What follows is the story of how he put that great mind to use, developing the concept of 'The Facebook', while collaborating with some and alienating others.

On the journey we get a flavour of his fraught relationship with twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Minghella), as well as the arrival of Napster's Sean Parker (Timberlake) in his life. As Zuckerberg's star is rising so too is his friend-count, with everyone clinging on for a piece of the action. Seemingly blinded by the promise of more and allowing himself to be advised by those with ulterior motives, Zuckerberg steps onto a very slippery slope towards loneliness, while, ironically, it appears that acceptance was all he was craving in the first place.

As the story progresses, the pace and excitement of establishing the site/network, and its development into a worldwide resource and talking point, is juxtaposed brilliantly with the stark reality that Zuckerberg faces in the courtroom, as the origin of his concept is challenged. All the elements that make a great movie are in place here, from a dramatic and always engaging script to the superb acting and wonderfully-timed moments of humour. Under the direction of the renowned David Fincher, this movie is water-tight, no unnecessary filler scenes, no wandering off the plot and perfectly paced throughout.

Jesse Eisenberg is exceptional in the lead role, nailing Zuckerberg's sarcasm, dry wit and lack of social awareness, while at the same time retaining a level of vulnerability that makes you empathise with him. Andrew Garfield is cast perfectly as the best friend wronged and forgotten in the stampede to the top of the ladder, while Justin Timberlake shows a real flair as the man who will do almost anything for a piece of the action. Armie Hammer also turns in great comic performances as the Winklevoss brothers, getting some of the best lines and really making the most of them.

This is a fascinating depiction of how a small idea for an elite club mushroomed into a cultural phenomenon the world over. Everyone who has ever used Facebook should see this movie, more than once. As one of the best films to emerge this year, there's no end of things to marvel at. Captivating, concept to credits.

Linda McGee