Profile is caught in a curious frame. Inspired by Anna Erelle’s 2015 memoir, In the Skin of a Jihadist, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) crafts a Facebook-focused thriller that was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2018, is based in the year 2014, and finally arrives in theaters nationwide in 2021. What we have, then, is a screen-share narrative that’s both forward-thinking when it comes to bridging the ever-shrinking cap between computer screens and the silver screen and an outdated hand-wagging parable about the terrors of technology and the ever-present dangers of social media (what a concept).
Thus, Profile is both a product of its time and a movie that doesn’t belong to any specific time, caught in an odd limbo where it wants to warn us about the uncertain future but feels beholden to our semi-recent past. Nevertheless, Profile’s gripping story prevails, providing an engaging and fittingly nerve-wracking look at the inherent journalistic risk of getting too close to your sources — even when you’re thousands of miles away. Profile isn’t a movie that fits comfortably into the present knowledge of social media, but its investing story provides a compelling and well-packaged look back at a simpler (but no less fraught) time in our past decade when you could very easily get caught in the internet’s ever-growing webbings.
Giving us an intimate look into the internet-based life of Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), a young, possibly naive British journalist who wants to prove herself with an in-depth look at the online age of ISIS, Profile is benefitted nicely by keeping itself closely knit to the view of its main subject. Favoring a simple plot with high stakes but a tightly-boxed perspective, Profile is the latest screen-share film from Bekmambetov that earns easy comparisons to his past productions, including the Unfriended movies and 2018’s own Searching. While Profile doesn’t have the campy thrills of the former and lacks the emotional sincerity of the latter, it’s elevated by a real-time feel that’s closer to reality — with the stakes feeling much more dangerous as a result.
While some might bemoan the leaps in logic that the movie ventures to take throughout its latter half, Profile keeps a foot grounded in reality — or, at least, some believability — thanks to its source material and the dedicated virtual performances from Kane and Shazad Latif, who plays the mysterious ISIS member known as Bilel. Their performances remain thoughtful and present throughout the film, while Bekmambetov is deft enough to know how to balance screen-sharing and screen time with our lead actors.
That said, there’s definitely something to admire about watching a movie like this on your computer — as I did, opposed to catching Searching and the Unfriended movies on the big screen. The experience of watching this real-time thriller from the comfort (or discomfort) of your laptop is a little surreal, and it admittedly takes some getting used to, even as these movies become more common in the movie marketplace. But even compared to last year’s Host, which sparked fear in others more than it terrified me, there’s something appreciatively urgent about Bekmambetov’s brand of screen movies.
The Russian director knows how to incorporate humor in choice moments, often in the bleak variety, while dispelling the illusion and also feeding us little bits of character information that are far from subtle but do the trick well enough. Profile takes what could’ve easily been a formal character drama and uses it to further this new-ish type of screen-focused filmmaking. The result still isn’t seamless, but it’s hard to shake the immediacy.
This is an evolving form of filmmaking; I don’t think Bekmambetov will be the filmmaker who cracks the code as a director or as a producer. With that said, Bekmambetov is pushing the genre forward in an effortful, but present way — even with the movie’s long-delayed release potentially infringing upon Profile‘s success as a modern-day narrative. It’s easy to bemoan the “gimmick” with these types of movies, and how their inability to move past the screen prevents them from feeling fully enriched with character and believable drama. As I noted before, it’s still a work-in-progress, but Profile remains one of the better movies to capture the claustrophobia of being trapped inside the net.
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