Did First Rave Review of ‘The Social Network’ Step Over Ethics Line?

Critic Scott Foundas sits on board of N.Y. Film Fest where Fincher’s movie is playing opening night

Last Updated: August 20, 2010 @ 3:09 PM

Sitting on a board of a film festival, you get to see a lot of films early, even earlier than most film critics do. But if you’re a critic, too, should that preclude from reviewing them?

That’s the question the Playlist raises in a post about the first review of David Fincher’s “The Social Network” by freelance critic Scott Foundas. Who sits on the board of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Which puts on next month’s New York Film Festival. Where the film — starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and new “Dragon Tattoo” girl Rooney Mara — is playing on opening night.

Foundas reviewed “The Social Network” for Film Comment, a magazine that is co-owned by the Film Society, rendering the ethics of the issue even fuzzier.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Foundas gave Fincher’s film a rave review:

David Fincher’s The Social Network is big and brash and brilliant enough to encompass them all. It is nominally the story of the founding of Facebook, yes, and how something that began among friends quickly descended into acrimony and litigation once billions of dollars were at stake. But just as All the President’s Men — a seminal film for Fincher and a huge influence on his Zodiac — was less interested by the Watergate case than by its zeitgeist-altering ripples, so too is The Social Network devoted to larger patterns of meaning.

Sony did not immediately return a request for comment.

When contacted by TheWrap, Foundas declined to comment on whether or not the studio knew he planned to review the film based on his festival screener. "Everyone on the selection committee saw the film under the best possible circumstances during the selection process," he wrote in an e-mail. "The NYFF doesn't select any films sight unseen, or seen only in part, unlike certain other festivals."

Seems to me that even if Foundas saw the entire film under the auspices of his board membership, he wasn’t out of line to review it. Other working critics have sat on the NYFF board (Lisa Schwarzbaum, John Anderson, John Powers, Manohla Dargis et al.) and many have written about films that were selected — and not all of the reviews have been glowing. (Sure, Foundas got a jump on other critics looking to review “The Social Network,” too, but that’s not his problem — he was being resourceful.)

What is out of line is the lack of disclosure, up top, in the review posted on the New York Film Festival website, because, as I mentioned, there’s a built-in incentive for him to give the film a glowing review.

Readers of Foundas’ piece shouldn’t have to connect the dots — like the Playlist did — themselves.

And while I’ll wait to elevate “The Social Network” to “All the President’s Men” until I actually see the film, Fincher's “Zodiac” was killer, and the trailer does look awesome.