‘Profile’ Review: Cyber entrapment that’s elusive and extra

Timur Bekmambetov’s ‘Profile’ connects a journalist and ISIS recruiter as the former attempts to pump the latter for information worth a headline.

A dangerous conversation in 'Profile.'
(Image: © Focus Features)

What to Watch Verdict

‘Profile’ is a seamless screen life application but character development suffers as defined by pivotal negligence despite two invaluable performances from Valene Kane and Shazad Latif.


  • +

    💻 Valene Kane sells her character’s journey.

  • +

    💻 Shazad Latif stands out as the suave and "complicated" ISIS recruiter.

  • +

    💻 Intriguing from start to finish.


  • -

    💻 Kane’s character is going to vex many viewers.

  • -

    💻 Largely a manipulation game that’s rigged.

  • -

    💻 Drama falters while the focal relationship blossoms.

Profile in a single word? Compelling. Timur Bekmambetov advances the “screenlife” medium not via Skype possessions or dark web invaders, but by exploiting the all-true devastation of outcasts seeking virtual refuge then hunted by online predators. Anna Érelle’s tell-all novel In The Skin Of A Jihadist becomes a source for ultimate sorrow, romanticized connections, and tremendous screenlife applications. Bekmambetov’s genuine entanglement within the wilds of human emotions will frustrate some as an undercover journalist experiences Stockholm Syndrome while pursuing a terrorist recruiter—but compartmentalized complexity always remains authentic. That may be an instant turn-off for some viewers, yet becomes the enduring signature of Profile. A narrative propelled by its almost purposefully misfiring main character who, in so many words, could be any one of us.

Valene Kane plays the primary role of Amy Whittaker; an on-the-beat British reporter tasked with exposing ISIS recruitment tactics used to lure European teenagers to join their violent cause. After creating a fake profile for “Melody Nelson,” a newly converted Muslim practitioner, it’s not long before Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif) slides into her DMs with twenty questions. Amy’s boss Vick (Christine Adams) assigns an IT confidant in Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh) who will record scheduled video chats; otherwise, it’s on Amy to convince Bilel that she’s serious about relocating to Syria in pursuit of ISIS’ paradise. Can she fake her Muslim conversion and expose ISIS’ women trafficking schemes in a dangerous exposé? Or will Bilel’s sob stories of joining ISIS after England repeatedly abandoned a struggling Pakistani child strike a personal connection Amy cannot betray?

As a representation of screenlife technologies, Profile is impeccable. Like Unfriended, Bekmambetov ensures everything on screen is relatable, from iTunes playlists to Facebook Messenger to recognizable internet browsers (albeit a few versions backdated based on filming dates). It’s the intimacy Profile deserves, as Amy allows staff position ambitions and unpayable rent to cause a plunge into murky waters of religious extremists. The same extremists who stoned a UK teenager to death once wooed by the same ISIS promises. Co-writers Britt Poulton and Olga Kharina answer the questions of “how” and “why” are we watching Profile from a laptop window perspective and do so with urgency. As the narrative unfurls, deadlines loom, and Amy wrestles with moral confliction once Bilel becomes this Middle Eastern Prince Charming with a bigoted origin, Bekmambetov makes use of every minuscule pixel with technical clarity. From persistent boyfriends to impromptu fashion shows to the faintest sense of suspense when Bilel urges “Melody” to share her personal desktop.

In a digital universe where the wrong YouTube clip’s volume could blow Amy’s cover as “Melody,” there’s a stressful anxiety every time Bilel rings “Melody” and Skype’s dial tone beep-beep-boops. Such sensations aren’t guaranteed in screenlife films—in Profile, it’s a bonus.

Valene Kane and Shazad Latif captivate throughout this docudrama cyber ruse, especially Latif. Bilel’s smoothness when showering Amy with “baby” pet names and adoring attention is so powerful the journalist's guard fractures a bit each chat—how can any woman resist a heart outline in bullet embers from the barrel of a Kalashnikov rifle? Amy understands she’s conversing with an ISIS recruiter who could be seeking another trafficking victim, yet safety precautions are less necessary than her continually reshaping story thesis. Whether that’s forgetfully not switching Facebook profiles before posting or revealing geographical landmarks to Bilel that could pinpoint her exact London address. Profile dares to convince audiences that Bilel—a proudly confessed Syrian assassin with organizational ISIS allegiance—can channel Amy’s humanity as a weapon. Far enough where we’re not confident Amy’s immune to Bilel's effusive compliments, undivided attention, and staple dream-boyfriend traits.

Any tension, breathlessness, and compulsion within Profile stems from Amy losing herself within “Melody” like Jared Leto without the accompanying "in character" abuse—to the point where her actions are unrecognizable. Amy is being treated like a princess, ready to be whisked away into stolen mansions without oppressive governments. Bilel’s words are poison candy that become Amy’s addiction, to the point where Vick’s threats to pull the entire story or boyfriend Matt’s (Morgan Watkins) neglect are spotlighted from Act I onward—and yet we can’t look away. Again, all due to Latif’s twisted white knighting from a place of “purity” and Kane’s whirlwind blurring of lines from the very first chat session where Lou’s car trouble complicates screencap plans.

“This entire scenario is ridiculous,” many will bash out on keyboards. I can’t argue, either. I also can’t deny the authentic and inexperienced undercover engagement that grooms the perfect “lioness” target for a “lion” like Bilel. Fanaticism and community inclusion collide in an online space that Bekmambetov understands best—where lies are traded like a currency; a marketplace where anyone can curate their personality and appearance behind a wall that hides what’s kept behind on purpose.

Criticisms of Profile are acknowledged and unignorable. If it weren’t for Timur Bekmambetov’s obsessive attention to screen life details and effusive performances from webcam anonymity, I’d be vastly less interested. As is, Valene Kane and Shazad Latif mix diabolical charms and self-sabotaging ethics into a deceptively sweet cocktail with a sickeningly bitter backend. It’s an imperfect dramatization that begs you to understand why Amy flounders as an investigative journalist since decision-making would make an FBI evaluator hurl. “Compelling,” I can’t shake that word. Whether that’s with positive or negative connotation will vary based on any single viewer’s ability to embrace screenlife franticness, ISIS repulsiveness as a thematic mechanism, and Amy’s negligent interview tactics in favor of a lion’s sly grin and the internet’s most dangerous game.

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.