Film

Review: In Profile, an Undercover Journalist Embeds in a World of Extremism and Human Trafficking

From frequently kinetic action director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; Wanted) comes a film that is much more about igniting your synapsis from anxiety and dread than his usual style of filling the screen with action and wild visuals. Profile is about Amy (Valene Kane), an undercover British television journalist working on an in-depth piece on how terrorist recruiters use social media to rope in girls and young women and get them to travel to the Middle East (in this case, Syria) where they are eventually turned into victims of human trafficking after being promised a life of love, marriage and being an important part of an extremist cause.

Profile

Image courtesy of Focus Features

For Amy, her recruiter is Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif), a strikingly handsome, confident and militant individual for whom she pretends to be a recently converted Muslim wanting to do more for the cause. This unconventional thriller plays out entirely on Amy’s computer screen using the Screenlife format (similar to what the recent Searching did), so most of the camerawork is handled by the actors (at least, it appears to be). It took me a while to realize that every video we were watching was already archived, giving us the impression that these events had already happened, leaving us to wonder who was going through Amy’s computer.

As the intensity of the relationship ramps up, it becomes clear that Amy is falling for her seducer, as he pressures her more and more to come to Syria and become his wife. She keeps her editor (Christine Adams) up to date on her progress with her story, but knows that she needs to get a clear sense of the route and method the terrorists use to traffic these women, and the only way to figure that out is to at least begin the process herself. Creating a false identity doesn’t keep her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins) from finding out and not being completely understanding of her methods, and the risk of her cover being blown grows by the day, putting Amy’s life at great risk through this entire process.

Profile is based on a real reporter’s journey, one that resulted in several arrests, which is a relief to find out at the end of the film. But as Bekmambetov tells his story, this is a terrifying ordeal that I had to keep reminding myself wasn’t a documentary, since it often feels like one. Kane and Latif give outstanding performances, with her being caught between being professional but also wanting to appear convincing, while he comes on a little too strong all the time, just enough to keep his potential victims off balance and feel like they’re being swept up into a whirlwind romance. Latif’s seduction techniques make her realize that her own relationship with Matt has gotten a little stale, which makes her all the more vulnerable and the film all the more nerve-wracking.

There are times when Amy is moving around her screen so quickly, with so many windows open, switching from one identity to another, that I got lost, but the film does a remarkable job keeping us on pace with her machinations for the most part. Even though Profile will be available theatrically, the experience of watching the screen of laptops on my own computer was especially unnerving and beautifully effective. This might be the rare case where I recommend waiting to watch a film online because of its visual choices.

The film opens theatrically on Friday, May 14.

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