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Review: 'Profile' Has Unexpected Power

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 14, 2021
'Profile'
'Profile'  (Source:Focus Features)

Timur Bekmambetov's laptop thriller "Profile" may be built from video of computer screen activity - the latest in what's become something of a niche genre - but it delivers the twists and emotionally wrenching impact of a more conventional film.

A British journalist named Amy (Valene Kane) creates a fake online persona she names Melody in order to attract the attention of an ISIS recruiter and learn the intricacies of how young European women are drawn to Syria, where they are embroiled in terrorist activities or - as Amy learns during her on-the-fly research - trapped in sexual slavery.

In mere seconds, a handsome, charming man named Bilel (Shazad Latif) responds. Amy has to move quickly, watching tutorials on how to fashion a head covering, arranging technical support and real-time coaching in Islamic culture, and juggling intrusions from her calendar (the rents due), calls from her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins), and trivial messages from her friend Kathy (Kathy).

Even as all this is going on, Amy is pulling up newspaper accounts and YouTube videos about teenagers who, feeling alienated and in need of a personal mission in life, have run away to Syria.

One such young woman, seeking to escape back to Europe, is stoned to death, and the video posted online - it's a chilling omen of what might happen if Amy's not careful.

However, her own inexperience and growing paranoia present dangers, as does Matt's increasing aggravation and jealousy...and the impatience of her editor, Vick (Christine Adams), who alternately chastises Amy and dangles the carrot of a staff position in order to spur her along.

Perhaps the greatest danger, though, is how Amy finds herelf starting to lose perspective. Bilal's overtures to her are quick and extravagant, but he has a way of seeming in earnest. What if he really does love her as he says he does? For that matter, what if Amy's starting to love him, in spite of herself?

The film carries hints of similar films - like the 1988 Costa-Gavras film "Betrayed." While that film was loosely based on reality, "Profile" is a dramatization of the 2015 non-fiction book "In the Skin of a Jihadist," by Anna Érelle.

"Profile" is a thrilling reminder of how the people we know, largely, are known to us not for who they really are but for who the project themselves to be (and how we fill in the blanks with projections of our own).

Every time Amy looks up a helpful resource online - like tips on how to pretend to be in love - the implied reversal tickles at our consciousness. What if Bilel has mastered those very tips and is using them on Amy in his own turn?

More potent is the sense of Amy's drive to submerge herself into the story, and the persona she's invented as a means of doing so. The lines between professional and personal get blurry, and Amy invests "Melody" with more of herself than intended.

Again, the reverse might be true: Bilel shares bits and pieces of his own history that humanize him, but that also bring the story into sharper focus later on.

While a movie unfolding in the form of video records displayed, one after the next, on a laptop might, in a time of pandemic, feel a little claustrophobically close for comfort, the film's use of Skype calls does venture out of closed rooms and into a few locations, and that helps open things up some. (There's even a moment of harrowing battle on Bilel's end.)

The laptop conceit offers some unexpected and clever benefits...such as how Amy supplies the film's soundtrack by pulling up songs on iTunes to match her mood.

More engaging than you might expect, "Profile" has more kick than a film of this genre ought to.


"Profile," a Focus Features release, comes to theaters May 14.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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