Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile is yet another computer-screen film that forces you to live through our protagonist’s hopes and fears.
Profile has come to remind us that the internet is just as dangerous as it is useful. Often we are told by the media, our parents or our friends to be careful of who we talk to on social media, especially when it comes to modern day teenagers spending most of their time on their phones. We are told that people are never who they seem they are at first, and that it is extremely easy for somebody on the other end of your screen to sell a completely different version of themselves, only for you to find out the harsh truth about them later. Inspired by a true story, Profile shows what happens when you play with fire and purposely seek an inescapable nightmare scenario via social media.
The film follows Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a desperate British freelance journalist who turns to Facebook as a last resort to meet her work and housing rent deadlines. She then proceeds to create a fake account and fake identity in an attempt to get a lead on a story that will put her life at risk when she infiltrates a militant group. She soon attracts the attention of Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif, Star Trek: Discovery), an actual terrorist recruiter that inspires Amy to embark on a game of cat and mouse, as she tries to bait him into revealing pivotal information that would expose the organization’s online recruitment techniques.
This is not Bekmambetov’s first rodeo when it comes to producing a film in the now well-known format he likes to call Screenlife. A Screenlife production is when a film takes place entirely from the computer screens of its protagonists, allowing us to see the story unfold from the characters’ personal space. In 2012, Bekmambetov signed on to produce the supernatural horror movie Unfriended for Universal. Released in 2015 with a $1 million micro-budget, the movie proved to be an incredible success making approximately $65 million at the worldwide box office while spawning a new way to approach storytelling. He then went out to produce its inevitable sequel, and the chilling thriller Searching. Profile is his latest Screenlife movie, and there’s something to be said about the way these kinds of movies excel at putting you in the character’s shoes. Like its older siblings, Profile takes a minute to get used to due to its storytelling style. If you cannot adapt to the way this movie unfolds, then you are most likely not going to enjoy the ride you will undertake with these characters. If you do, indeed, get past its gimmicky style, though, then you will find yourself wrapped up in the dangerous scenario Amy finds herself trapped in.
It would be odd to say this is a fun, entertaining movie, considering the real life subject matter of terrorists persuading young girls to convert to their beliefs and way of life, but, weirdly enough, it kind of is. Seeing our protagonist navigate through this situation is extremely fascinating and at times frustrating, with Amy constantly making mistakes along the way, which helps humanize her and makes it easier for the audience to sympathize with her as a character. She’s not a ‘know it all’ kind of journalist, but she is bold and ambitious, as she’s risking her life in order to get validation from her editor-in-chief Vick (Christine Adams, Black Lightning), get a proper payroll, and get herself a seat at the main table. Her relationship with her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins, Kingsman: The Secret Service) is also affected by this potential breaking story, as she tries not to be sucked in by Bilel and be lured into becoming a militant extremist herself. Considering Amy’s three big motivations here — the reasons why she pursues Bilel in the first place — it makes you wonder if Amy pursued this story as an opportunity to inform the public about what was going on at the time, with these young girls leaving their families in favor of a terrorist group, or for her own self interests. In the end, Amy’s real life counterpart ultimately proves that she can make selfless decisions — that could cost her own life — by making her story public in December of 2014. As a result, six people were arrested for their direct involvement in Jihadi recruitment networks. The police also advised Amy to change her name and address.
A movie like Profile could have easily fallen apart from the start if it wasn’t for its two leading stars, Valene Kane and Shazad Latif. They truly carry this film from beginning to end, and give two very distinct and impressive performances, even more so when you consider they’re never in the same room and they don’t get to physically interact with one another. Latif plays a charismatic and intimidating villain in Bilel, in which he gets to fool the viewer — just like he does with Amy — that he’s deep down a good guy with good intentions. That being said, Profile really is Kane’s movie. She basically gets to play two versions of herself — that very well could be one — as she goes through a rush of emotions and comes out a changed person at the end of this journey. The rest of the cast is great, as they take on the role of the audience’s point of view with them pointing out just how crazy all of this really is.
The decision to approach this particular story with its unique format is both the film’s blessing and its curse. On one hand, you have an incredibly immersive way to get people invested in these characters, as we get to see them from a very open and vulnerable position. On the other hand, this style of filmmaking can only get you so far. Yes, it does have its obvious advantages — the immersiveness of it all — but the film suffers from never giving you those moments to breathe in-between Bilel and Amy’s Skype meetings. You get the occasional “let’s check how the boyfriend is doing” moments once in a while, or the “let’s discuss just how crazy this is” kind of scenes with Amy’s coworkers and supervisor, but that isn’t enough. That’s a problem you are destined to run into when you force your characters to stay in a restricted location and you choose to only show the audience very specific meetings between Amy and Bilel, and nothing in-between. One moment Amy is laser-focused on getting information from Bilel, the next she’s completely protective of him, and the transition is not the best.
In addition — though we know this is inspired by a true story — you often find yourself questioning just how easily Amy is tricked into believing Bilel’s lies, considering she’s a journalist, after all, and she should know better, when you keep in mind he is a literal terrorist recruiter. This problem could be linked to the fact that, as a film, Profile needs to over-dramatize certain aspects of this story.
Profile succeeds in keeping you invested for most of its runtime, but, towards the third act of the film, you can’t help but to impatiently wait for it to wrap up. It drags significantly, and, though you should probably care about Amy’s world falling apart, you kind of don’t. It doesn’t help that the thrilling tone, that made the movie special at first, is then replaced by this odd — almost melodramatic — feeling it carries until the very end. Though it starts getting interesting again in the last couple of minutes, the film just abruptly ends with no real conclusion, leaving you feeling empty and wanting more.
If you are a fan of movies like Unfriended or Searching and you’re looking for an exciting thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat, then Profile might just be the movie for you. Just keep in mind it won’t always reach the highs of the first act and, if you can’t connect with the film on a visual and technical level, then you are really going to struggle with this one.
Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile is now playing in US theaters. Click here for more information on the official site for the film.
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