‘The Apprentice’ Review: Apolitical and Anti-Climactic

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The Apprentice (2024) © Scythia Films
The Apprentice (2024) © Scythia Films

The Apprentice is a film about one of the most controversial, disliked and talked about figures of the last decade, someone whose name never leaves the headlines. Promising to analyse the beginning of Donald Trump’s career and family empire, this movie feels more relevant than ever in the run-up to the 2024 US elections.

★★★☆☆

Set in New York between the 1970s and 1980s, The Apprentice follows Donald Trump (Sebastian Stan) during the early years of his business career. In particular, the film focuses on the relationship between a young Trump and Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), a New York City prosecutor known for his role during the Second Red Scare and as a political fixer in the 1970s. As this mentor-protégé relationship develops, we see Trump make his first calculated moves into the family business, using power, corruption, and deception to come out on top.

Portraying a public figure like Trump as an actual character rather than a pastiche is not an easy task, and Stan’s performance here proves to be a benchmark of the actor’s talent. Trump’s voice, mannerisms, and patterns of speech have been mimicked by comedians over and over. Here, the speech intonations, hand gestures, and way of talking of the former President of the United States are harrowingly familiar, but go beyond parody or ridicule.

The Apprentice (2024) © Scythia Films

Jeremy Strong is equally incredible as Roy Cohn, grabbing the audience’s attention straight away and stealing the scene every single time he is on screen. The Apprentice may be about Trump’s career, but it soon ends up being Cohn’s film. This is not to say that the movie portrays Cohn particularly well: his redemption act feels too forced in the second half of the movie, and the full scope of his problematic career is too downplayed in the narrative of the film.

The film is paced very well and does a great job of building up the tension and conflict over its run time, but for an audience which is likely very familiar with Trump’s story, the ending cannot help but feel anticlimactic 

The film is enjoyable, but there is little that the audience will remember from it once the credits roll. As a character study, watching a young Donald Trump become more and more like the person the world has come to know, The Apprentice is a fascinating analysis of Trump as a businessman—but not as a politician.

The Apprentice (2024) © Scythia Films

Digging a little deeper into the political side of it all , which would have made The Apprentice a much more impressive and memorable product.  When making a movie about Donald Trump, being apolitical is not an option; especially for an audience that has lived through the January 6 Capitol Hill attack, and especially at a political time when his threatening presence looms over American politics once again.

The Verdict

The Apprentice could have been a much stronger product that invited us to reflect on how one of the most famous and disliked men of recent years started his career, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. However, the result is not entirely disappointing. Ali Abbasi delivers a fascinating character study on his two main characters, while also portraying the harrowing reality of the American elite.

Words by Clotilde Chinnici

The Apprentice premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2024


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