Donald Trump Biopic Debuts At Cannes – And Has Already Split Opinion Down The Middle

Jeremy Strong and Sebastian Stan in The Apprentice

A new biopic about Donald Trump has already divided critics after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rather than focussing on Trump as we know him now (the former reality star who went on to serve one term in the White House, and is currently campaigning for a second), new film The Apprentice centres around his personal and professional life in the early years of his business career.

After portraying real-life figures in projects like I, Tonya, Pam & Tommy and Dumb Money, Sebastian Stan takes the lead in the film, alongside a cast that includes Succession’s Jeremy Strong and Maria Bakalova, who earned praise for her performance in the second Borat film.

The Apprentice received an eight-minute standing ovation in Cannes, although some critics seem less convinced about whether now is the right moment for a film dedicated to Trump’s early years.

Here’s what the critics have said so far about The Apprentice…

The Guardian (2/5)

“In sketching out his pre-White-House career, The Apprentice worryingly moves us back to the old Donald, the joke Donald who had a cameo in Home Alone 2 and of course his own hit TV show, the joke that is now beyond unfunny. It feels obtuse and irrelevant.”

The Times (4/5)

“It is difficult to overstate how nuanced Stan is here and how his portrait of Trump evolves in physical gestures and familiar mannerisms (saying ‘loser’) without becoming an Alec Baldwin-style caricature. If there’s any problem with Stan’s iteration of Trump, especially in the early sequences, it’s that he’s almost too sympathetic.”

Donald Trump pictured in 1985
Donald Trump pictured in 1985 Universal History Archive via Getty Images

The Telegraph (3/5)

“The main problem with Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice is that the film is a character study with very little character to study [...] Still, what the film lacks in revelatory insight into the Trump psyche, it makes up for in enticing context.”


“I wouldn’t describe the portrait as flattering, but it is not a hatchet job [...] Stan eases into the role, suggesting the young Trump without venturing into an SNL-like impersonation. He captures him precisely and believably throughout.”

The Hollywood Reporter

“Some will argue that Stan’s performance in the central role is a touch too likeable, but the actor does an excellent job, going beyond impersonation to capture the essence of the man. In a character study of a public figure both widely parodied and unwittingly self-parodying, Stan gives us a more nuanced take on what makes him tick.” 


“The Trump we see goes through a looking glass of treachery, leveraging his empire – and what’s left of his emotions – to within an inch of his life. And once that happens, we’re simply watching a well-acted TV-movie made up of familiar anecdotes built around the Trump we already know [...] The mystery the movie never solves is what Trump was thinking, deep down, when he chose to become Donald Trump.”

IndieWire (C grade)

Clipped from the start and increasingly uncertain of its purpose as it fumbles toward the Trump we know, this origin story certainly isn’t as painful to watch as the future that it portends has been to endure, but it’s every bit as banal and unnecessary.”

Total Film (3/5)

Whether the filmmakers truly get under Trump’s skin is debatable. Do we learn much new about him? Perhaps not, but it’s an absorbing journey all the same.”

Evening Standard (4/5)

“The Apprentice is not going to change anyone’s mind about Trump [...] but Abbasi does an excellent job of showing us how and why Trump became the Trump of today and how his path to presidency was paved.”

Financial Times (4/5)

“If The Apprentice doesn’t put a foot wrong, neither does it step much beyond the expected [...] The Apprentice gives us a relatively safe portrait of a deeply contentious figure, one that is unsettling mostly for how little it unsettles. For many, the thing least palatable about The Apprentice is how much Trump might actually like it.”