MOVIES

A Subtly Humiliating Look at the Rise of Trump

When you watch the first few minutes of “The Apprentice,” there’s almost a sense of repulsion as Sebastian Stan speaks as Trump. “Am I actually watching this?” you may ask yourself. “Have they really cast one of the most handsome stars working today to do an impression of Trump?” But director Ali Abbasi’s intentions for the character become clear almost immediately, and Stan effortlessly slides into the role. The depiction of Trump plays into a sense of internal delusion — especially once he’s more successful, Stan portrays him with the supreme confidence of an idiot who thinks he’s the coolest, smartest, handsomest guy in any room.

There are moments where Abbasi sets up these hero shots where Trump clearly thinks he looks like a movie star, but they’re purposefully just the slightest bit off, and he actually looks tremendously stupid. Trump is often begrudgingly praised for his charisma, but “The Apprentice” captures how awkward his interactions with other people actually are, as though he fundamentally does not know how to be a human. Stan doesn’t fall into the trap of imitating Trump too much: the patter and cadence of his vocal patterns are there, but he doesn’t get caught up in doing the voice, which is 100% the right choice.

It’s perhaps a cruel irony on Abbasi’s part that even in a movie about Trump, Trump isn’t the alpha of the production. That honor goes to “Succession” star Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn, who owns every inch of the screen, blisteringly confident at the top of his game and hollow-eyed and vulnerable after he falls from grace. The truth of the matter is that Strong’s performance is so powerful that whenever Cohn is on-screen, Trump is just a footnote, and that’s probably one of the things about the film that will make him angriest. Do you know how bad of a person you have to be when Cohn, the actual devil, comes across as more sympathetic than you? Even the title of the film, “The Apprentice,” is a subtle jab. It seems at first as though it’s named for the TV show that turned Donald Trump from a real estate guy to a celebrity, but it’s actually a reminder that even the Trumpian qualities he values most in himself are a mere imitation of another man who, let’s be honest, did it better.

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