If you’re looking for a film that may actually play better on a desktop computer or laptop than in a theater, then look no further than Profile. The story takes place in the confines of a computer screen, which we all have intimate knowledge of these days. Video chats, Skype calls, bandwidth issues, posting cat pictures on Facebook and Instagram, juggling personal and professional accounts. You know the drill. Too bad Profile is being released in theaters first. It’s intriguing, but not compelling enough to warrant a theater experience, even if vaccinated. The film is based on a true story that I (as a former journalist) was vaguely familiar with, and it’s basically a thriller for geopolitical and journalism junkies.
Profile follows the dangerous quest of a British journalist (Valene Kane, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) who is out to bait and expose a London-born militant (Shazad Latif, “Star Trek: Discovery”) who’s been luring young women into his terrorist web through social media. The journalist, Amy Whittaker sets up a fake Facebook account in the name of 19-year-old Melody Nelson, a recent convert to Islam who “likes” a lot of extremist videos – beheadings and such. The poster of the videos – a charismatic, cat-loving mamma’s boy named Bilel — reaches out to Melody/Amy and soon they are professing their feelings and playing headgames with each other. What’s real? What’s not? Who’s fooling who? And is Amy falling for her new Jihadist “friend” – or just pretending to go along with his promises of an idyllic life as his “virgin bride” in Syria? Ick.
Profile is directed by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov and is based on (or at least inspired by) the 2015 nonfiction book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” by a French journalist who has since changed her name to Anna Erelle and has round-the-clock police protection. If you mess with the terrorists and their network, they are remarkably adept at finding you.
Amy’s on-screen multi-tasking always feels a click away from blowing up in her face, as the lines start to blur between her real and fake personas. That does yield some tension, but also some frustration, i.e. you want to roll your eyes and tell her to stop responding to her real-life boyfriend’s IMs while she’s conversing with her fake fiancé. C’mon, everyone should know that.
Profile is part of Bekmambetov’s years-long effort to explore the “Screenlife” shooting process that aims to humanize the digital space. Timing is everything. The technique is particularly relatable in these pandemic times, where we’ve come to accept a reality that often does not include in-person interaction. Sometimes, that is freeing; other times, addicting. Even dangerous.
Profile is available only in theaters on May 15.