Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay by: Timur Bekmambetov, Britt Poulton, Olga Kharina, based on ‘In the Skin of a Jihadist’ by Anna Erelle
Starring: Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Christine Adams, Amir Rahimzadeh, Morgan Watworkkins
A good script can carry a protagonist’s story in a meaningful way, while the director’s job is to find a mechanism to convince the audience that the protagonist’s story is worthy of being watched.
“Profile” is a part of screenwriter and director Timur Bekmambetov’s (“Wanted,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) ‘Screen Life’ series of films with a protagonist and antagonist interacting completely on a computer screen. These characters interact with information on a screen or via video communication with friends, family, or co-workers. The genre has the potential to create a rich and varied way of conveying characters and situations because you, the audience, aren’t following the character – you’re the computer following the character. This way of storytelling has the benefit, and perhaps the distraction, of creating new dramatic thrills and chills or unexpected moments of tenderness or laughter.
If I didn’t have a more apt way of describing, I would avoid calling it voyeuristic.
But, I don’t. And, I can’t.
With that, we explore “Profile” through a peek into a journalist’s world as she braves entrée into the world of ISIS as a way of making a big break on a huge story. Valene Kane plays Amy Whitaker, the freelance journalist. Bekmambetov smartly based his screenplay, co-written with Britt Poulton and producer Olga Kharina on Anna Erelle’s book, ‘In the Skin of a Jihadist,’ an expose on ISIS recruitment activities focused on young women.
Amy is disheveled. She’s living on the edge of her seat with no real backup plan; she’s unsure of herself and, frankly, stalls for time with her editor, Vick (Christine Adams). She has a rather limp relationship with her boyfriend, Matt (Morgan Watkins), and is somewhat disengaged, making her the perfect subject for this story.
Bekmambetov explores Amy’s vulnerability and how easy it is to lose yourself within the pixels on the screen. Watching Amy interact with everyone in a relatively static way allows us to experience her world without feeling like we’re intruding. Within that vulnerability, though, is a calculating soul, someone aching for a challenge.
Answering the call of that challenge is Bilel (Shazad Latif), a member of ISIS. Bekmambetov’s “Screen Life” captures Latif’s charms, as if you’re drawn into his whims and his world, that everything is ok with the deceptive techniques he uses to convince Amy.
Amy’s equally deceptive actions play a convincing tune with Bilel and the audience too. However, the editing and Kane’s mannerisms wear thin about halfway through the film as if the screenplay ran out of its own ability to statically tell the story while aching to shift into a third-person perspective.
The constant back and forth communication and distractions of Amy’s real-world obligations sour the mood Bekmambetov worked so hard to build during the first act. While I admire each respective character’s ambitions, the film’s latter half felt like a letdown and effect of its ambition.
Bekmambetov, who I had the chance to meet at the 2018 South by Southwest film festival for both this film and “Unfriended: Dark Web,” found more success with “Searching” and the “Unfriended” sequel.
“Profile” might have been too ambitious for its format, though the structure remains a novel idea waiting for another story strong enough to stand up to the form, and I, for one, am willing to stand behind the format, just not with this film.