Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice: A Look at Trump’s Early Years | Review

Ali Abbasi's "The Apprentice" at Cannes 2024 explores Trump's rise under Roy Cohn, presenting a nuanced, judgment-free look at his formative years and America's decline.
The Apprentice (2024)


Cannes 2024

The young Donald Trump according to Ali Abbasi: A phenomenology beyond suspicion, competing deservedly

by Federico Pontiggia

It (wasn’t) Donald Trump in the beginning. To understand what made him, among other things, the 45th President of the United States, we must go back to the 1970s-1980s when he was molded in the image and likeness of Roy Cohn, an influential Jewish lawyer, right-wing political fixer, and McCarthy’s associate. Cohn drilled into him three rules that would build his shaky real estate empire and much more: first rule, attack, attack, attack; second rule, deny everything, admit nothing; third rule, never declare defeat.

Remember The Apprentice, the reality show Trump led from 2004 to 2015? Well, that’s where the title of the new film by Iranian-born, Denmark-based Ali Abbasi comes from. Written by expert Gabriel Sherman, it unfolds on screen as a coming-of-age story of The Donald: his irresistible rise, which symptomatically coincides with the decline of the American empire, contemplated without moral judgment, as a phenomenology beyond good and evil – but beneath every suspicion.

Fear not, the permanent critics will raise their fingers or tear their clothes: let them, but it’s not with ethics, and perhaps not even with courtrooms, that one understands and even opposes The Donald, a man who back in the Eighties met Andy Warhol at a party, didn’t know who he was but immediately endorsed “making money is an art.”

In competition at Cannes 77, in our theaters in the fall close to the American elections (it hasn’t yet been distributed in the States…), it puts Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men, Goodfellas and more, much more, at the service of a greedy and indigestible, apathetic and predatory tranche de vie that serves itself with the mimetic and simultaneously alienating performance of Sebastian Stan – with Jeremy Strong as Cohn being equally, if not more, formidable.

“Tall, blond, and looking like Robert Redford,” as much for the Post as for his mother, later “Don Johnson of Miami Vice,” always and forever Trump, labeled “orange” early on by his wife Ivanka, how does The Art of the Deal – the 1987 biography co-written with Tony Schwartz – connect to his future political “passion”? The America, symptomatically lauded by Cohn as “my first client,” is the one of scoundrel Nixon, the Reagan button “Let’s make America great again!” and of… Trump who calls the White House a loser’s place: “If I lose, I’ll run for president.”

There is no ideological dissuasion; even domestic abuses are merely noted, as The Apprentice seeks rather than judges, questions instead of condemns, in line with Trump who, fueling future fake news for his own benefit, asks: “What is truth?”

Abbasi sticks close to him to document epiphany and epiphenomenon, his actors total and cohesive, the informed Gabriel Sherman decoding, the cinematography of Kasper Tuxen recording with a savory vintage effect and the benefit of invention: Trump, the sorcerer’s apprentice, not abandoned by Cohn but by himself.

Cinematografo, May 20, 2024


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read More

Inside Out 2 (2024)

Inside Out 2 Review: A Sequel Tailored for Gen Z

Puberty and Other Disasters: The Adventure of Growing Up in Pixar’s Sequel. Less groundbreaking than the original but captivating and profound, with irresistible moments and heart-wrenching scenes (the arc of Anxiety).

Weekly Magazine

Get the best articles once a week directly to your inbox!