When you think about the sort of people that put their lives on the line for the greater good, those working in journalism probably don’t immediately come to mind. Alas, the world is changing and news reporters are almost front and centre of today’s casualties. For example, 21 Russian journalists are alleged to have been murdered since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. (Compare that to the 3 that have been murdered in the U.K. since 1975). Even right now the world is in an uproar over the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia.
That danger which journalists sometimes find themselves in is at the heart of Profile, the third “Screenlife” film released this year by producer Timur Bekmambetov (though he also takes the directorial reins here). Based on the real-life experience of French journalist Anna Erelle (who documented her trials in the book, In the Skin of a Jihadist); Profile focuses on freelance investigator Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) as she works on a story about European women being groomed by members of ISIS.
With the full support of her editor Vick (Christine Adams), Amy creates the fake persona of “Melody Nelson”, a recent convert to Islam and begins to share and like brutal videos of terrorist activities. In this guise she is contacted by Bilel (Shazad Latif), an ISIS fighter in Syria. As Amy starts to take Bilel into her confidence, she gains more information as to how young girls and women are convinced to travel to such dangerous places. But with a looming deadline to meet, Amy is forced to spend more time with Bilel, increasing the risk that he might discover her real identity.
As mentioned above, Profile is another instalment in the Screenlife genre; a form of storytelling where the entire film takes place on some form of screen, whether that be computers, phones or television. The story (though set in 2014) lends itself quite naturally to such an approach, especially considering the 2000 miles between the character’s locations of London and Syria.
With multiple uses of Skype, Facetime and instant messaging, the film admittedly doesn’t have much in the way of expansive cinematography. (In fact, the film has no credited Director of Photography.) As such the real skill mostly comes from Andrey Shugaev’s editing prowess. As each screen scrolls by and with every click of the mouse, he makes sure there is always a palpable tension seeping through; with the constant reminder that Amy might blow her cover always at the forefront of your mind.
Though there are minor glimpses of other characters throughout the piece, the extensive focus on both Amy and Bilel essentially turns Profile into a digital two-hander. Kane does pretty well, creating a strong balance between her argumentative attitude with her editor and boyfriend (Morgan Wakins), and her submissive approach with Bilel. But in the end it’s Latif that dominates. His chilling charisma is a fantastic glimpse into the seduction of ISIS, as well as truly making the viewer understand how misguided souls in the West can fall into such traps. The fact that he manages to exclude such charm over a shitty Skype call just goes to show the strength of both the character and the actor.
Despite its positives, there are aspects which result in Profile being the weakest of all of Bekmambetov’s Screenlife films. 2015’s Unfriended had the tension of being entirely set in real-time; while this summer’s Searching had the engaging aspect of a central mystery to solve. Profile, however, is more reliant on the simple building of a relationship. An approach that is nowhere near as engaging as watching a mystery unfold. Adding to that issue is the film seemingly being set over a three week period. Such a massive time compression means that the development of the main duo’s relationship seems rather forced.
Though it can get silly at times, especially in the latter half, Profile is still a gripping and relevant story that acts as a timely reminder that even the best of us can fall victim to those hunting on the plains of the internet.