Profile Synopsis: Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), an undercover British journalist, risks her life by infiltrating militant extremist groups online. The lines between her work and her life blur as she begins to get closer to Bilel (Shazad Latif), an ISIS recruiter trying to lure her into the terrorist group. Loosely based on a true story.
Emerging from society’s tech-based intimacy, a new wave of cyber features has transfixed audiences from the perspective of our everyday devices. Some filmmakers have utilized the unique perspective to craft compelling reflections of habitual routines (Host and Spree were two of 2020s most inventive features), while others have sunk under the weight of the screens’ oppressively blank stares (I never jived with the campy Unfriended series despite their promise).
The subgenre’s latest iteration, Profile, finds Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov burrowing into social media’s sinister crevices. Bekmambetov boasts a wildly inconsistent track record despite his inventive visual eye, but his latest marks a career-best achievement for the distinctive filmmaker. As an exploration of terrorist groups’ seedy recruitment efforts, Profile raises its once-gimmicky filmmaking style into a surprisingly substantive thrill ride.
Other digitized films frame their style merely as an inventive pastiche. For Profile, its single-screen setting feels singularly ingrained into its narrative ideals. Bekmambetov’s direction grips audiences within its precise minimalism, with the cold, matter-of-factness capturing the subject matter’s harrowing undertones through each click and notification. Considering the director’s typical verbose style, this markedly restrained effort is a refreshing change of pace. I also enjoyed Bekmambetov’s command of the film’s pulse-pounding dramatic frames. His lack of Hollywood-ized score and showy tricks allows this journalistic narrative to retrain its pragmatic origins while still keeping the thrills intact.
Amy’s descent into social media’s nefarious recruiting underground thankfully becomes a revealing experience. Bekmambetov and his team deserve ample praise for never sensationalizing Bilal’s tactics, allowing the character to be a handsome, somewhat charming force with seemingly genuine intentions. Promises of a new life chock-full of luxurious amenities and a supportive family system initially draw unsuspecting victims in, but the fairy-tale facade cracks with each casually callous comment and downright vicious ideal Bilal shares. This realistic dynamic benefits greatly from the film’s talented stars. Valene Kane and Shazad Latif amplify the character’s personas through their dedicated deliveries, eliciting raw and engaging performances from their screen-to-screen rapport.
Profile reaches soaring heights during its initial hour, a quality streak that Bekmambetov and company can’t quite sustain throughout the duration. The third act takes an unwarranted turn into Hollywood theatrics, with a sudden character change forcing the narrative down an exceedingly predictable and over-the-top pathway. Not only does this change of heart feel unearned, but the sensibility shift betrays much of what the film accomplishes in its first two acts. For a thriller that prides itself on grounded realism, it’s a letdown to see Profile sell itself short with artificial tricks.
Even as the film slips from its initial brilliance, Profile still enthralls where it counts most. Bekmambetov’s mixture of zeitgeist textures and thoughtful restraint make this the crown jewel of the computerized subgenre.