Where’s My Roy Cohn?

December 1, 2019

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The film suffers to some extent from having such an unsympathetic subject – and the attempts to humanise him only serve to make his actual behaviour seem venaler. It is, however, timely enough, and fascinating in a reptilian kind of way.
2 (8)

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Julian Wood
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Cast:

Roy M. Cohn (archive), Roger Stone, Joseph McCarthy (archive), Donald Trump (archive)

Distributor: Sony
Released: December 5, 2019
Running Time: 97 minutes
Worth: $17.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

The film suffers to some extent from having such an unsympathetic subject – and the attempts to humanise him only serve to make his actual behaviour seem venaler. It is, however, timely enough, and fascinating in a reptilian kind of way.

The murkier American politics gets, the more we seek to discern conspiracy theories about men behind the scenes and secret skulduggery. Not to deny, of course, that each jaw-dropping revelation will make us tend toward this view even more. And they just keep coming. Impeachment hearings anyone?

In Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary about lawyer Roy Cohn we have the story of a quintessential fixer and man on the make. Cohn grew up in New York under the cruel-care of his mother Dora who seemed to combine the fatal mix of coldness and pushy Jewish mother syndrome. Roy never felt he was good enough, and yet he was obviously fiercely bright. By the time he was in his twenties he was cosying up to the bellicose Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was while cutting his teeth in those now-reviled HUAC hearings that Cohn learned the basic lesson. When you are in the wrong, re-double your attack.

Throughout his long career spanning law and politics-by-default, he was proud of never backing down. In what the film suggests is over-compensation, Cohn tries over and over to show that he is tougher than the toughest. The many talking heads in the film all testify to his inflated and boastful sense of being a kingmaker or puppeteer of the powerful.

Then there is the complexity of his sexual orientation which comes to feature heavily in the latter part of the film. Not content with being the classic “self-hating Jew” (as the film puts it), Cohn was also aggressively persecuting gays despite his own homosexuality. After all, it was a smokescreen tactic that worked for J. Edgar Hoover.

It can be dangerous to buy into the mythmaking of a man like this but Tyrnauer doesn’t have to strain the argument too much when it comes to listing who he sought out. Cohn saw how powerful the Mafia were and he thought they would make loyal and cashed-up clients. They did. He also saw a potential ally in the rise of a self-serving young tycoon called Donald Trump. Sure enough, he helped young Donald along the way. In fact, the film’s title comes from that connection. When running out of dodgy advisors and legal shysters, Trump is supposed to have complained/asked “where’s my Roy Cohn?”.

The film suffers to some extent from having such an unsympathetic subject – and the attempts to humanise him only serve to make his actual behaviour seem venaler. It is, however, timely enough, and fascinating in a reptilian kind of way.

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