Directed By Timur Bekmambetov
Starring – Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Christine Adams
The Plot – A British journalist (Kane) goes undercover and infiltrates the digital propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, which has been mobilizing ever greater numbers of women from Europe. Her daily Internet contacts with an ISIS recruiter (Latif) gradually pull her in and push the limits of her investigation.
Rated R for adult language throughout and some disturbing images
– Consistent tension. The craft of illustrating and maintaining anxiety from a desktop perspective is not one that comes easiest for Bekambetov and company, yet somehow it’s the one distinguishable feature that kept me constantly engaged to a film that is essentially one hundred percent exposition throughout. On that topic, the dialogue for the movie is most gifted with fleshing out its characterization, but also structured in a way that builds like an opera of anxiety through quick movements and exposed vulnerability on-screen for our protagonist, as she toes a line of trepidation that could literally expose her at any second. In addition, it’s the access granted to the ISIS culture that breaks down a taboo barier for the film, all the while giving us an unfiltered aspect of visuals in the form of cultural traditions that simultaneously flesh out the stakes of the exchange for Kane’s Amy as it all constantly tests her commitment to making something out of herself, all for the sake of a good story.
– Superb casting. In keeping with the movie’s authenticity that allows it to periodically transcend its entertaining captivation, the decision to cast a series of mostly ambiguous, unknown actors to the forefront is one that not only pays off immensely for the immersive appeal of the plot, but also one that showcases each of them accordingly with a camera on them at nearly all times. For Kane, it’s the emotive bubbly eyes that constantly engage us towards the mirror into her soul, fleshing out a vulnerability for Amy that doesn’t properly interpret the volume of the situation she now holds in her hands. In contrast of that is Shazad Latif’s Abu, whose surprising amount of depth and versatility between emotional registries better helps to convey the ambiguity of the strangers we talk to at all times. The chemistry between them is charming in a way that articulates their connection in another life, all the while transforming each of them seamlessly before our eyes for the appearances of the other.
– Unique parallel. There’s an interesting character dynamic between Amy and Abu that is most evident the longer the film persists, illustrating a similarity for two characters who initially are the very definition of polar opposites. For Amy, it’s very much the thrill of a story to break down barriers that requires her to go incognito while presenting herself as this defective Melody who essentially doesn’t exist. When you piece that together with the mentality of Abu, who presents himself and his country as one that supposedly breaks down the preconceived notions of the Islamic faith, when in reality he and it are something entirely different, you start to understand that our dynamic at the forefront is two people starting an interaction when neither of them are being honest with the other one. This speaks volumes to an inevitable confrontation that we as moviegoers know is coming, but still feel firmly invested based on who will break first. We’re constantly ahead of both of them in the information department, but that wealth of knowledge never hinders the movie’s appeal, instead using it as a conflict from within that each have to respond to capably if they wish to maintain the ruse, and persist with the only thing similar about their characters being the lie they work against the other.
– Technological authenticity. With watching films like “Unfriended”, “Friend Request”, or “Host”, the biggest nagging aspect of the production is the use of its apps or computer technology that often dramatically oversteps boundaries in logic to break my immersive aspect towards the film. Thankfully (For the most part) that isn’t the case with “Profile”, as Bekmambetov and company have clearly done their homework not only on the features and use of an Apple desktop computer, but also in articulating to a tee the toxic atmosphere of social media that often judges character before all of the facts have been presented. It was most accommodating to witness everything happening in frame to be that of what I myself would in Amy’s shoes, especially her stall tactics during the heat of the moment that force her to improvise before our very eyes. My guess is because this film is based on a true story, it forced the production to double down on the aspects to cater to its presentation, fleshing them out in a way that is not only easy to accurately interpret, but also using them as arsenal weaponry within Amy’s disposal.
– Musical cues. I definitely wasn’t expecting the movie’s soundtrack to play so vicariously in the wide range of emotional pallets and feelings that the film so cleverly articulates. These are the rare moments of tasteful levity that the film needed between sequences of hot-blooded pressure, allowing us to keep our reality in check without soiling the sanctity of the tension that is so brilliantly harvested. I truly don’t want to spoil much about this, but I will say the use of Radiohead’s “Creep” after the initial engagement between Amy and Abu offered a devilishly delightful circumstance that not only played towards Abu’s overtly expressive demeanor, but also kept tabs on Amy during her transformation, as the songs are being played by her request. The artists performing the tracks are obviously not the original artist, as it would over inflate the movie’s budget tremendously, but the somberly emotional rendering is one that equally triggers a somber uneasiness within the experience, painting one of the more insatiable aspects to the movie’s production.
– Vitally important. One of the directions that I’m glad was left unexplored from the movie’s marketing is the horror side of the story, which would otherwise weaken the poignancy and truth of an unfortunate real life circumstance that deserves attention. In being a film set in 2014, at the height of the ISIS backlash, the film takes us through the recruiting of young women by their dangerous pursuers, speaking volumes not only to the vulnerability of online interaction, but also towards how such a group pads their numbers with supposedly agreeable demographics willing to give up everything for the promise of heaven on earth. Because of this appeal, “Profile” transcends itself in being just an entertaining film, which it absolutely is, to an educational one full of urgencies and statistics for real life victims that it uses respectfully to further flesh out its narrative. It makes for an experience that was every bit crippling as it was eye-opening to the levels that I honestly had no idea about, and makes this perhaps the most important of the desktop films, if even just for the depth of its dark and dampening subject matter.
– Unpredictable. If you’re like me, and ignorant to the fact that the film is based on a true story, you’ll be supplanted with an array of swift movements and riveting developments so crazy that they have to be true. There’s even one scene involving a character giving unknowingly giving up their location by the boredom that inspires their hand to move their phone while scrolling back and forth in a chair, that I accurately interpreted, yet was surprised nonetheless for the direction the film uses it to play into a third act reveal that is most satisfying. Beyond this, there were a couple of matters during the film that present themselves one way, within the context of the conversation, then used in an entirely different manner to catch the audience off-guard at a moment when their defenses are inevitably set down. It bottles the intrigue consistently throughout, all the while capitalizing during the sequences that would otherwise be initially considered nothing but throwaway in the context they’re used for their predecessor films of the minimalized genre.
– A big leap. Without question, the only element of the script that I didn’t fully buy, and one that created a couple instances of suspended logic in the evolving interaction between Amy and Abu, is the subplot of Amy actually falling for this guy she hasn’t even known for a whole month. There’s certainly ways the movie speeds up this interaction, mainly with a storytelling device that periodically scans days ahead instead of laterally telling this story conventionally in day after day format. However, that speeding through the navigation only further adds to the problems of believability that I had with this transformation, especially as she spots things along the way that noticeably give her a red flag of warning to her Romeo behind the keyboard. This also diminished the likeability and interpretation of Amy from a once brilliant mind behind the screen navigating through technological advances and concepts, to a lovesick emotional cripple whose love can be bought by the cost of one similarity between characters.
– Stilted pacing. For my money, the desire to make this a 100 minute narrative, complete with backstory and epilogue, is one that I greatly appreciated for the attention given to the meat of the material. Unfortunately, it’s the use of those minutes that occasionally diminished my interest to the heat of the conversation, leaving too much unnecessary fluff in along the way that the film honestly doesn’t need. When you especially consider that this is being told in post-story, where all 26 days of interaction between Amy and Abu have already been documented, you wonder what two series of conversations with the former’s sister adds anything to the development of this narrative, nor why we’re even being shown anything in Amy’s life before the recording even happens. I understand the intention is to convey the stakes of the great life that Amy holds that is constantly hanging in the balance, but if I’m an editor being shown this for a story, I would speed through all of this useless excess to begin with. It made for a few periods of attentive sagging during the second act that could’ve been trimmed, and the movie would’ve lost nothing. In my opinion, more time could’ve been given during this period to further flesh out my first problem mentioned above, making the believability all the more accountable, and not just sprung free from one lone example of similarity between the two characters.
– Anti-climatic ending. This is the one aspect where being a true story does itself no favors to the benefit of the narrative, halting resolution abruptly during a time when the movie’s conflict feels its hottest for pay-off. Ending things with on-screen text isn’t a horrible way to end things, it’s just not great for this film because it undercuts the tension, as well as some of the more compelling aspects of the story, where the audience required a visual pay-off to their 100 minute investment to the story. This is the one aspect of the film that felt shamefully delivered in a horror genre encompassing, feeling a desire to send audiences home underwhelmed at the moment when their words could be heard the loudest by the overwhelming silence, taking the experience down a whole point for the climax that was duly promoted throughout, then told to us in lazy execution.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-