You have been wary and warned of the harms of the Internet since its inception, but the reality has never been so clearly illustrated as with Profile.
Inspired by the true story of Anna Relle, the pseudonym of a former French journalist who wrote In the Skin of a Jihadist, Profile portrays Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), a struggling British journalist who comes up with a story idea to its editor, Vick (Christine Adams), to go undercover and be recruited by an ISIS leader who allegedly tricked young converted Muslim women into joining their cause, coming to Syria and becoming a wife of war.
This concept in itself is terribly intriguing, but director Timur Bekmambetov brings it one step closer to reality, everything is done on a computer screen. Although this has been done before (Searching, 2016 and Unfriended, 2018), we never felt like 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 she’s having a hard time getting him to hire, chats with friends, posts on Facebook, and visits a new place to live with her fiancé Matt. (Morgan Watkins).
In our virtual world, especially since COVID, living on a computer and juggling twenty things at once, is our new reality. Amys’ frenzied world becomes even more so after being given the green light on the story and her alternate universe as Melody Nelson begins.
Within moments, Melodys shares on Facebook an act of violence by ISIS leader and chief recruiter Abu Bilel Al-Britani aka Bilel (Shazad Latif) leads to a message from him. Delighted and nervous about her quick results, she video chats with her editor, letting her know about the success. Understanding the possible gravity of her situation, she is coached by the Muslim Point of Sale IT Coordinator as the face to face courting between Bilel and Melody begins.
The dangers of Amys’ affectation come to the fore, but it’s her neglect or even recklessness that creates great anxiety throughout the film. Amy slips deeper and deeper into Bilels’ recruiting process.
Amy continues the trick of being Melody, but with her chaotic life represented by the constant messages, alerts, and pop-ups, the inevitable mistake will happen. While we know this will happen, we don’t know how and neither do we ever predict the emotional effects the murderous cat lover charmer will have on Melody / Amy.
Watching the movie on the big screen lets you better understand every moment as you multitask messages, watch screens appear and disappear and be captured by the well-spoken Bilel.
However, looking at this on my big screen computer screen, it felt even more real, tempted at first to restart my computer because I thought my link was down and Facebook had popped up. This real feeling continued throughout the film, expertly pulling me into Amys’ world as my heart pounded and my blood pressure skyrocketed.
Bekmambetov expertly develops this alternate world as he carefully takes us on Amys’ journey, looking back as days are files and those files are open to view. The interactions recorded on the screen are his diary that lead to the climactic finale.
The character set gives us this realistic portrayal of events and while this is not a documentary it is only inspired by a true story, the possibility of it happening a lot in the way that it is presented is not beyond the realm of the possible.
Kane portrays Amy as a typical young woman, overwhelmed by the cost of living, the life itself, and trying to make a living as a journalist. She skillfully develops a complex character whose cognitive and emotional intellect slowly blend, conversely, to endanger her. We watch helplessly as Kanes Amy is courted by a soulless killer.
Latif is extraordinary as a young follower of ISIS and leader of its soldiers. His flippant bragging about the murder is both disgusting, but Latif gives us a reason to understand Amys’ attraction to him. The brainwashing and targeting of young women becomes much clearer thanks to her performance as Bilel.
Bekmambetov’s keen eye and creative purpose in developing the film is impressive. Directing his cast, the leader who has to complete his entire role in front of a computer screen, is a logistical nightmare, but he succeeds effortlessly. We are sucked into this world for 115 heartbreaking minutes, not daring to look away because we might miss key and fleeting information.
Acknowledging the fact that this is a fiction, but understanding that it is based on the experiences of a woman, who is currently protected by permanent police protection and has changed her name, punctuates the importance and the dangers of real journalism.
Reel Talk rating: 3 stars