PROFILE – Review by Diane Carson

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Profile delves into ISIS recruitment through a naïve journalist

In director Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile, based on a true story, London-based television journalist Amy Whittaker becomes enmeshed in a chilling cat-and-mouse game with an ISIS recruiter who goes by the name Abu Bilel. Interacting exclusively through a computer for the entire film, Amy’s often crowded, even chaotic screen mirrors her frenetic attempts to gain control of her life.

Her rent is past due, and so she desperately needs the job her article will ensure if it delivers inside information regarding ISIS. Recently, ISIS stoned to death a young British woman trying to escape their clutches and return to England. And so Amy invents a counterfeit Facebook account as Melody Nelson, puts on a hijab, and covers her tattoo before embarking on multiple Skype calls with Bilel who’s fighting in Syria. The pas-de-deux between them plays out like a frightening, joint seduction: a play-acting, modest Melody enticing Bilel to reveal more and more about his beliefs and actions.

Increasingly obsessed with Bilel, Amy keeps her editor Vick, fiancé Matt, and friend Kathy at arm’s length. Her technical aide Lou provides IT support and advice as a Muslim himself. As the terrorist Bilel compliments and Melody evades questions, the stakes escalate, Amy wrestling with perspective. Repetitive and excessive, relying on sound and fury offering an overload of distracting stimuli, this restricted, digital world ensnares Amy. She responds to the warmth Bilel offers, though his ISIS allegiance remains cookie-cutter simplistic, lacking development. As Bilel, Shazad Latif presents a charming, inviting lure for the inquisitive, reckless, clueless Valene Kane as Amy/Melody.

Based on a French journalist’s experiences in 2014, detailed in her 2015 book In the Skin of a Jihadist, Profile feels more like a video game (albeit a deadly serious one) than a substantive interrogation. It Is certainly no secret that the internet teems with fake profiles and misleading, dishonest information, including recruitment of disenchanted, lonely individuals to terrorist and cult groups. Therefore, Profile benefits from relevance to current problems, but I kept hoping it would expand its tiresome computer-screen, gimmicky staging into a more intelligent, complex examination.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.