“This country was taken over by a group of people with a ‘policy coup’! Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rumsfeld, and – you can name a dozen other collaborators from ‘Project for a New American Century;’ they wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control. [..] Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re an American you ought to be concern about strategy of the United States in this region – What is our aim? What is our purpose? Why are we there? Why are Americans dying in this region? That is the issue.”
– Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.) addressing the Commonwealth Club (3 October 2007)
I know I often kvetch on this site about how much I hate productions that waste potential, but something I equally hate is a story about characters who are constantly described as smart as they do the most idiotic things imaginable. It’s one thing to show characters who aren’t all ivy-league fops for whom every move is calculated, but it’s quite another to show characters-who-are-constantly-described-as-intelligent committing actions that blatantly defy that description.
Amy Whittaker, the journalist and lead character of Timur Bekmambetov’s long-delayed Profiles, takes this trope to such farcical extremes one might mistake the film for a satire of the trope. It’s bad enough female journalists are often stereotyped in film as eager to fuck their male subjects (I’m lookin’ at you, Clint Eastwood), but Profiles marries that played out cliché with the aforementioned “stupid smart person” trope. Every keeps saying how brilliant Amy is as she knowingly reveals her personal life – not her cover, mind you, her actual life details – to the known terrorist who is her interview subject. As a journalist myself, that pissed me off.
Despite its screen-share format suggesting Profiles was filmed during the pandemic, it was actually finished back in 2018 and sat on the shelf for the past three years. The screen-only gimmick is actually the same one Bekmambetov – who burst onto the scene with 2004’s Night Watch – has been employing as the producer of the Unfriended flicks (which I haven’t seen) and the Bay Area-based Searching (which I found pretty good). Now, he’s hopped into the director’s chair for this ripped-from-the-headlines story that was probably infinitely more interesting in its true-to-life form.
I haven’t read In the Skin of a Jihadist – Anna Erelle’s memoir of her time infiltrating a Daesh cell by posing as a would-be teen bride – but the premise itself is, admittedly, gripping. It’s easy to see why Bekmambetov and his colleagues wanted to film it. Yet without having read it, I’m still willing to bet that Erelle wasn’t nearly as incompetent as Amy, her onscreen avatar.
From the film’s opening, the cash-strapped Amy is subject to the inverse of the old film of showing more than telling (it’s a visual medium after all). Amy’s behind on her rent, despite having a seemingly-rich
boyfriend fiancée (Morgan Watkins) who’s pressuring her to move in already. At the urging of editor Vick (Christine Adams), Amy takes a freelance assignment posing as a teen interested in Islam in the hopes of attracting the leader of a Daesh cell who would want her as a child-bride. She finds one in Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif) and begins falling more into character than she planned.
That’s not correct: she doesn’t simply get lost in her character, she engages in the old film cliché of the undercover who blatantly ignores the advice of their expert advisors – all of whom explicitly advise not to get too close to the target/subject – and gives away personally information, putting their life in danger.
Watching this Eurocentric, narrow-minded flick, I was reminded of Amy Adams’ thankless take on Lois Lane Man of Steel. She brags about having a Pulitzer, yet she comes off as the dumbest journalist picked to cover the existence of super-powered beings (which she first starts covering as a tabloid-style alien story). I’m not all that familiar with Valene Kane’s work, but I seriously hope it’s better than what’s represented here. I am familiar with Christine Adams’ work, and she’s pretty wasted here.
Paradoxically, the best performance is that of Shazad Latif, whose performance is both natural and well-accustomed to the digital format; he never gives any hint that he’s an actor putting on a performance. It’s the one shining light of an otherwise mediocre cinematic exercise.
And I say that as someone who saw the flick for free via online pre-release screener. I still think I paid too much. Considering this flick is properly screening only in cinemas, it’s just another reason to stay home during the pandemic.