The movie about Trump that Hollywood is afraid of releasing

The movie about Trump that Hollywood is afraid of releasing

Michelle Goldberg writes:

This week I finally got to see “The Apprentice,” an absorbing, disturbing movie about the relationship between the red-baiting mob lawyer Roy Cohn and a young Donald Trump. The film, which was received with an extended standing ovation and mostly appreciative reviews when it premiered at Cannes last month, is a classic story of a mentor and his protégé, chronicling how Trump first learned from and later surpassed his brutal, Machiavellian fixer.

Its performances are extraordinary. The “Succession” star Jeremy Strong captures both Cohn’s reptilian menace and, eventually, his pathos, as he’s wasted by AIDS but, closeted to the end, refuses to admit it. Just as impressive is Sebastian Stan, who makes Trump legible as a human being rather than the grotesque hyperobject we all know today.

It’s not a sympathetic portrayal, exactly; this is, after all, a movie that depicts Trump raping his first wife, Ivana. (The scene is based on a claim Ivana Trump made in a divorce deposition but later recanted, saying she felt “violated” but didn’t want her “words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”)

But “The Apprentice” also gives you a sense of the audacious glamour Trump projected before he became a caricature, and it makes his decision to pursue Manhattan’s Commodore Hotel in the 1970s, when Midtown was a sleazy wasteland, seem visionary. It offers a fresh way of understanding how Trump — under the tutelage of Cohn, who once served as chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy — evolved from an almost charming Queens striver into the lawless predator now bestriding American politics. I wish you could see it.

Unfortunately, you may not get a chance to anytime soon, at least in the United States. Distributors have bought the rights to “The Apprentice” in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and many other countries. But the filmmakers have yet to secure a deal to release it here, either in theaters or on streaming services.

Negotiations are ongoing, and domestic distribution could still come together. Yet the possibility that American audiences won’t be able to see “The Apprentice” isn’t just frustrating. It’s frightening, because it suggests that Trump and his supporters have already intimidated some media companies, which seem to be pre-emptively capitulating to him.

Some established distributors might simply be reluctant to take on “The Apprentice” because they think political films are money losers; as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, Adam McKay’s 2018 Dick Cheney biopic, “Vice,” was considered a “major flop.” But “The Apprentice” is a far buzzier film than “Vice,” and it appears from industry reporting that the movie industry is less worried about finding an audience than about poking the MAGA bear.

As Puck’s Matthew Belloni wrote after talking to potential buyers, “several that really liked the film are still out on ‘The Apprentice,’ in part because of the politics of the moment — which is to say fear of the politics of the moment.” Emanuel Nuñez, president of the production company Kinematics, one of the film’s investors, told me, “Trump attacked the film and, unfortunately, it appears that Hollywood right now doesn’t have the stomach to release this film and take him on.” [Continue reading…]

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