Trump film The Apprentice is ‘grimly fascinating’

Stan nails Trump’s movements and facial expressions, but he makes the wise decision not to attempt an impersonation or a caricature, instead playing the character as an insecure and impressionable lost soul who has no idea how to have a conversation, and who keeps stopping besides parked cars to check how his wispy hair looks in their windows. It’s an excellent, nuanced performance that could make Trump sympathetic, whatever your political leanings. You might not agree with Abbasi’s approach, but it’s certainly a bold one.

Strong is mesmerically odd as the unblinking, unsmiling Cohn, and as long as these two men are together, The Apprentice is a compellingly cynical buddy movie. Cohn buys Donald an expensive suit and tutors him on how to boast to the press, and he teaches him various phrases and attitudes that would later become Trump trademarks. Abbasi doesn’t overdo any of this, but he can’t resist putting in a badge for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign that has the slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again”.

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It’s a shame that the film all too quickly pushes Cohn to the sidelines. The second half of The Apprentice becomes a more conventional biopic, working its way through Donald’s successful and less successful business ventures, and chronicling his toxic relationship with his first wife Ivana (Maria Bakalova from the second Borat film). But it’s still grimly fascinating to see the build-up of Boogie Nights-style sleaze as he takes to amphetamines, plastic surgery and younger women.

It’s also rather strangely sad to see something inside him withering away and dying. As Donald talks more and listens less, and apparently loses all capacity for genuine affection, it’s clear that Stan, Abassi and Sherman were thinking of Citizen Kane and The Godfather, not to mention the way Shakespeare’s Hal casts aside his former friend and mentor.

Again, The Apprentice is destined to be berated by many as too flattering or too unflattering, but it’s a cleverly composed snapshot of its subject at a specific time. Ultimately, it doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard, and it doesn’t plumb the psychological depths. But as the producers could be in legal trouble already, that’s probably for the best.


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