ST. LOUIS — Imagine you're a journalist for a British news channel. The new assignment revolves around baiting and revealing a terrorist overseas via social media methods. But as you start to investigate his cause and get to know him, the gravitational pull starts to unseat your priorities and you move closer to him than your work and family. It gets to the point of you thinking about taking a plane ride to one of the most dangerous places in the world, in order to see him. At this point, are you off the reservation or just finally awake?
Welcome to "Profile," a challenging yet interesting film that presents the mighty power of the interwebs in all its dangerous glory.
Director Timur Bekmambetov may be known for large-scale action thrillers like "Wanted" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," but "Profile" represents a tonal shift for his work, dropping the action set pieces for a laptop screen that works faster than yours ever will. Part of my brain couldn't resist picking up little tricks while watching this film on how to navigate around the internet on an Apple computer. If I ever get one of those, I am all set due to this unflinching yet exhausting expose about the different types of connections that lie at human beings' feet these days.
For Amy (Valene Kane), the connection exists on Skype, where she interacts with Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif), a recruiter for the Islamic State who waves propaganda all around social media, trying to lure in innocent women who think they are joining a revolution. With her best friend and fiance worried about her dedication to the job-they watch her go from scared to obsessed back to scared over the 110 minute running time-Amy finds herself changing for Bilel while wondering if she is sharing too much. Think about it. You have to create new profiles on Facebook and Skype, but ones without your name and email. You have to cover your hair and make sure too much of your home isn't showing. All these protocols start to trap her into this game with a man who openly admits that his job is "killing people."
Bekmambetov's movie is far from a gimmick though, creating plenty of suspense and keeping the million dollar question strong throughout: Will she join him, or expose him?
Out of the cast, Latif is easily the standout. If ISIS had a calendar, he'd be on it. With the thick hair and measured beard, he crawls into Amy's mind quite easily with his convictions and heartfelt beliefs. Like the writer, you will find yourself falling into his web of supposed lies and deceit, almost to the point of shouting at the screen, "she's undercover, bro! Watch out!" The actor hasn't popped up on my radar yet, but he makes the film climb higher due to his charisma.
Be warned. The entire film takes place on a computer screen, mostly Amy's from her swell London flat. "Profile" was produced by the people who brought you "Unfriended" and the much better John Cho film, "Searching." It does intend to make you feel claustrophobic from all the screen changes, interactions, and even action that unfolds on this woman's laptop. If there's one thing that doesn't sleep in this world, it's the internet and all its players.
If I can say one thing about it, the intriguing setup hasn't worn out just yet. The script, which was based on Anna Errelle's novel, "In the Skin of a Jihadist: A young journalist enters the ISIS Network," doesn't pull punches and presents palpable suspense.
Is it worth watching? Yes, especially with all the war-torn carnage taking place in Gaza over the past few weeks.
Do you have to watch it right this second, in theaters? No. You should wait for it to reach on demand in a few weeks.
If you take anything away from this movie, it's that Latif is a talent to keep an eye on.