Ray Arthur Wang’s film “The Profile” takes an unfortunately timeless tale of racial profiling and turns it into a cool and funky blend of noir, suspense and crime thriller. While the film has some terrific moments in it’s nicely paced 17 minutes, there’s some flourishes involved that just didn’t click for me. But then again, when someone’s making a project that is a passion piece involving many of his great cinematic and musical influences, a little leeway can be granted.
Based on a true story, “The Profile” tells the tale of Trung Minh Tran (Nguyen), a computer expert at a nuclear facility who is arrested for supposedly selling secrets to the Chinese government. After some fairly loose evidence is uncovered, Tran is dragged downtown for some intense questioning by typical a*****e cop, Agent Hughes (Armstrong). The questioning soon devolves into racial name-calling and ill informed racial bias sneaks in all around. All the while viewers start to realize the police may have the wrong man. “The Profile” feels timeless but is also clearly modern as we look at the recent illegal immigration laws enacted by Arizona. This adds to the feeling of frustration at the situation and also at how easy it is to wrongfully point a finger at someone based on race.
Shot on black and white 35mm film, “The Profile” has some sort of visual effect that gives a yellow hue. While it certainly looks different, I didn’t see the point especially if you go to the trouble of shooting on 35. I was also not wild about Wang’s music choices as the soundtrack is peppy bee-bop jazz. In his director’s statement, Wang says this was an homage to classic noir but here, it kept me wavering mentally, wondering if this was a farce or a tale of a man who’s been wrongfully accused. Granted, the evidence mounted by the government against Tran is painfully farcical, I would have preferred another means of showing this rather than the catchy, absurdist jazz soundtrack.
Those things being said, “The Profile” is a pretty cool film. The acting by Trung Minh Tran is understated and much of it is skillfully executed by using his eyes. Matthew John Armstrong is also great as a special agent willing to skip a few facts in order to make a name for himself. There’s also some very nice direction and camera work in the film but when Wang tries to put too many cooks in the cinematic kitchen, we get yanked out of an engrossing story.