“Profile,” the newest film from director Timur Bekmambetov, is one of the worst films of the year to date.
This is not a completely lost movie. That said, “Profile” is emptier than a Dust Bowl-era farm. Bekmambetov doesn’t seem to want it both ways — an excellent story and an immersive film. Indeed, he settles for the most rudimentary style possible (the iMac) in Screenlife (the cutting-edge), which tells a film entirely through a computer’s desktop. Don’t settle for him.
Freelance journalist Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) is desperate for her new story to work out. The pitch: catfishing an ISIS recruiter and exposing him. The daily slog: overcoming bothersome notifications, calls, texts, calendar events, emails, rent notices, dingles, dongles and FaceTime and Skype calls to make sure she’s tricking the man on the other side of the screen and not vice versa. “Profile” captures this thrilling drudgery more than it follows it.
Regarding “captures,” the accordant definition is an offshoot of bondage. Amy is running close to the end of her rope, with editor Vick (Christine Adams) dangling a full-time position if she gets the story. The film pulls Amy here and there, straps her down and leaves her in abject helplessness. To call her naked, as in vulnerable to the viewer, would be too much praise.
The film becomes a numb game of cat and mouse between Amy and ISIS recruiter Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif) that inches toward the sensual. To be clear, there’s only ever sexual tension in the form of who’s seducing who inside a vacuum. The film itself is without oxygen — and very much dead.
As Amy tells her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins), it’s time for her to go make “friends with jihadists,” so she puts life on hold to share a few clips of executions. Under siege by those pesky 21st-century distractions, Amy’s covert foray doesn’t stop there. With the demands of life in London breathing down her neck, she gets it on with Bilel, a convenient, hot and tempting alternative.
The story ends there, and the one interesting factoid is made irrelevant; the meaningful but lazy use of music has potential for real character development but is made a fool of by an obstinately deaf film. Amy is devoutly a ball of stress, and the only vitality is Bilel playing soccer — which takes the screen (camera) into the world. See the limitations of virginal Screenlife?
We first meet Amy as she is making a fake Facebook profile. It’s the calm before the storm. The rest of “Profile” is one big, loud gizmo. Time moves in chunks, and who is telling the story isn’t clear. Amy, with Vick — mindlessly portrayed as a careerist — and I.T. guy Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh), records her calls with Bilel, but they’re played back to us without any conception of a purposeful narrator.
Screenlife is the only plausible narrator. Everything’s an excuse for flashy form — Screenlife for Screenlife’s sake. For all of its potential, nobody has taken the time to characterize the rest of the time someone spends on a screen. Who is Amy? Does she ever take her phone or laptop outside? Missed opportunities abound. Bekmambetov only takes half steps away from the holiest version of Screenlife, always measly and without innovation. This dangerous seduction is very intense but unconvincing without knowing Amy and the unattractive parts of her world. Screenlife, on Bekmambetov’s desktop, is hard for itself.
Like awkward arousal, “Profile” is without subtlety. Everything in Amy’s life must obscenely encroach on us without creativity. At that, only the most narratively essential pieces are given the time of day. “Profile” shares some white-knuckle fragments, all of which are divorced from the movie itself.
Most simply, it understands how to play to its form: the stress, the construction of the screen, the suspense of not knowing what waits in the physical world. Screenlife is capable of some of the most emotive cinema, but “Profile” proves it is currently home to the most empty.
Contact Dominic Marziali at [email protected].