You’ve been wary and warned of the evils of the internet since its inception, but never has the reality of it been so vividly illustrated than with “Profile.” Inspired by the true story of Anna Érelle, a pseudonym for a former French journalist who wrote “In the Skin of a Jahadist,” “Profile” depicts Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), a struggling British journalist who pitches a story idea to her editor Vick (Christine Adams) to go undercover and be recruited by a leader of Isis who reportedly dupes young female Muslim converts to join their cause, come to Syria, and become a “war bride.”
This concept in and of itself is a harrowingly intriguing one, but director Timur Bekmambetov brings it one step closer to reality—it all takes place on a computer screen. While it’s been done before (“Searching” 2016 and “Unfriended” 2018), never have we felt as if it was happening in real time on our own computer. We meet Amy, scattered and frantic, as she FaceTimes Vick, opens emails letting us know that she’s struggling to make her rent, chats with friends, posts on Facebook, and “tours” a new place to live with her fiancé Matt (Morgan Watkins). In our virtual world, particularly since Covid, living on the computer and juggling twenty things at once, is our new reality. Amy’s reality is a frenetic world which spirals out of control after receiving the green light on the story. And here we meet her in her alternate universe as Melody Nelson.
Within mere moments, Melody’s Facebook sharing of a violent act from Isis leader and head recruiter Abu Bilel Al-Britani aka Bilel (Shazad Latif) leads to a message from him. Elated and nervous about her quick results, she video chats with her editor, updating her on the success. Understanding the possible gravity of her situation, she is coached by the outlet’s Muslim IT coordinator as the face-to-face courtship between Bilel and Melody begins.
The dangers of Amy’s assignment are at the forefront of the story, but it is her carelessness or even recklessness that creates high anxiety throughout the film. Deeper and deeper Amy slides into Bilel’s recruitment process. Amy continues the ruse of being Melody, but with her chaotic life, represented by the constant messages, alerts, and pop up windows, the inevitable mistake will occur. While we know it will happen, we don’t know how and we also never predict the emotional effects the cat-loving, murderous marauder will have on Melody/Amy.
Watching the film on the big screen gives you a better understanding of every moment as you multitask reading messages, watching screens pop up and disappear, and being taken in by the smooth-talking Bilel. However, as I watched this on my big-screen computer monitor, it felt even more real, tempted in the beginning to restart my computer as I thought somehow my link messed up and Facebook appeared. This real feel continued throughout the film, expertly pulling me into Amy’s world as my heart raced and my blood pressure skyrocketed.
Bekmambetov expertly develops this alternate world as he carefully takes us on Amy’s journey, in hindsight, as days are just files being opened to view. Screen-recorded interactions are her diary which lead up to the climactic finale. It’s a recorded recreation of events to which we have seemingly been experiencing in real time.
The ensemble cast of characters give us this authentic portrayal of the events and while this is not a documentary—it’s only inspired by a true story—the possibility of it occurring much in the way it is presented is not beyond the realm of possibility. Kane portrays Amy as a typical young woman; overwhelmed by the cost of living, life itself, and attempting to make a living as a journalist. She deftly develops a complex character whose cognitive and emotional intellect slowly meld together, inversely, to place her in harm’s way. We watch helplessly as Kane’s Amy is wooed by a soulless killer.
Latif is extraordinary as this young follower of Isis and leader of his soldiers. His casual bragging about killing is at once repulsive, but Latif gives us a reason to understand Amy’s attraction to him. The brainwashing and targeting of young women becomes much clearer thanks to his performance as Bilel.
Bekmambetov’s keen eye and creative lens in developing the film is impressive. Directing his cast, the lead who must complete her entire role in front of a computer screen, is a logistical nightmare, but he effortlessly pulls it off. We are sucked into this world for 115 harrowing minutes, not daring to look away as we might miss a key and fleeting piece of information. Acknowledging the fact that this is fiction, but understanding that it is based upon a woman’s experiences, one who is currently protected by “round-the-clock police protection and has changed her name,” punctuates the importance and dangers of true journalism.
3 1/2 Stars