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Review: Profile (2021)

Profile (2021)

Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

Premise: Based on true events. A female reporter (Valene Kane) poses as a recent convert to Islam. She makes contact with a male recruiter (Shazad Latif) of the Islamic State in Syria, intending to expose the way they lure young women. She begins to fall for the recruiter.

What Works: The past few years have seen the birth of a subgenre of found footage that I’ll call “screen capture” movies. These films consist entirely or almost entirely of a character’s screen activity. Successful screen capture movies include 2015’s Unfriended and 2018’s Searching. 2021’s Profile is another entry in this subgenre and it is one of the better titles. What distinguishes Profile is the way that it visualizes how we create an online identity and the way screen activity and real life are connected. A series of media clips establish how recruiters for the Islamic State seduce women online and lure them to Syria where the women are either radicalized or sex trafficked. An investigative reporter intends to catfish a recruiter and expose their operations but her plans go sideways as she falls for this man and loses track of which of her online identities is the truth. Profile gets the subtlety of seduction and that aspect of the movie plays credibly. The film works as well as it does largely because of the performances by Valene Kane as the reporter and Shazad Latif as the recruiter. Latif’s character comes across as the opposite of the shrill fundamentalist stereotype and it’s unnerving just how normal he appears to be. As the reporter, Kane plays a woman whose empathy is turned against her and the emotional investment she makes in this relationship comes across genuine. That aspect of Profile is fascinating. This is a complicated film about online communications and how plastic our sense of reality can be in that medium.

What Doesn’t: The critical flaw of Profile is the way the movie consistently undercuts the credibility of its protagonist. Actor Valene Kane does a very good job in the role of the investigative journalist and she conveys the emotional truth of her character in a way that is convincing. What is not so convincing, and frequently undermines the movie, is the series of stupid decisions that the script forces her character to make. This woman poses as a Muslim convert and puts herself in direct contact with Islamic fundamentalists but she clearly hasn’t done basic research about the religion like how to wear a hijab. She is also extremely careless about protecting her identity. The reporter uses the same devices for personal communications and social media accounts as she does for this investigative project and she video chats with a clear view of the inside of her home. There is a dramatic point to this; Profile is about the way her identities bleed together but these mistakes play as unforced errors.

Bottom Line: Profile is a compelling cat and mouse drama. The movie suffers from credibility problems but the human aspects of this story are engaging and unsettling. This is one of the best examples of the screen capture subgenre.

Episode: #852 (May 23, 2021)