'Profile' Is a Compelling True Story That Should Be Taken with a Large Scoop of Salt

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Starring Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Christine Adams, Amir Rahimzadeh, Morgan Watkins, Emma Cater

BY Rachel HoPublished May 12, 2021

Timur Bekmambetov has a vision that telling stories purely through a computer desktop will be the norm in cinema one day. He's dubbed it the "screenlife" genre and previously produced Unfriended and Searching, two movies that have enjoyed decent success using this method of storytelling. The desktop film has been disregarded by some as a gimmick and lauded by others for being unique and modern – but ultimately, like any genre, it comes down to the director's execution.

For Bekmambetov's first directing effort in this genre, he chose to tell the true story of a journalist, Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), who goes undercover online as a recent convert to Islam to investigate the recruitment efforts of ISIS, particularly for young European women. Under the fake online profile of Melody, Amy attracts the attention of a senior member of ISIS, Bilel (played perfectly by Shazad Latif), who attempts to seduce Melody and have her join him in Syria.

In reality, it was a French journalist known to the public as Anna Erelle (her real identity and whereabouts have been kept secret due to threats against her life) who was investigating why young Europeans were becoming radicalized and joining ISIS. Erelle set up a fake Facebook and Twitter profile and happened to catch the attention of a senior officer who fell in love with her and tried to recruit her to the terrorist group. Erelle went on to write a book called In the Skin of a Jihadist about her experience, which was adapted into Profile.

It's easy to see how Erelle's story fits in well with the computer screen film genre. Given that the relationship between Amy and Bilel develops solely over Skype, had traditional filmmaking been used, injecting Skype and Facebook chats may have proven to be distracting. Instead, by telling the story through a series of videos, chats and Facebook posts, Profile almost feels like an investigative documentary.

While the filmmaking format works, the characterization of Amy does not. At the beginning of Profile we are meant to believe that Amy is an intelligent and capable journalist embarking on a high-risk assignment. In the end, rather than coming away with the idea that a journalist's efforts saved the lives of many young women, we're left surprised that, despite Amy's reckless decision making and remarkable incompetence, she still managed to achieve her journalistic goal.

Amy's questionable motivation behind the undercover operation is an interesting plot point, as her growing infatuation with the disarmingly charming Bilel becomes obvious. The exploration of this almost voluntary Stockholm syndrome raises many important questions and may be the reality for many ISIS recruits. But the excessive dramatics and mind-numbing decisions Amy makes are a significant departure from Erelle's recounting. To be clear, Profile is not in any way a documentary. It is purely a work of fiction that is based on true events. Given the fact that the real-life subject of the film is hidden away from the world because of the harrowing threats launched at her, however. it feels borderline disrespectful to paint Amy/Erelle in such a juvenile light.

Profile tells an important story and uses the computer desktop format well. Hollywood taking liberties with movies "based on a true story" isn't new and should probably be expected. This is a great introduction to Anna Erelle's story, even if it should be taken with a large scoop of salt.

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