Where's My Roy Cohn?
2019, PG-13, 97 min. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 11, 2019
Vile. Despicable. Contemptible. Foul. Corrupt. Just when you think you’ve found the perfect adjective to describe Roy Cohn, black-hearted villain of modern American history, up pops another one. Disgraceful. Abhorrent. Loathsome. Repugnant. Revolting. It’s futile: There’s no single pejorative that can amply define the man who conspiratorially whispered in Sen. Joe McCarthy’s ear, unjustly sent Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair, blindly served as consigliere to murderous mafioso dons, and flamboyantly consorted with attractive younger men but went to his grave denying his sexual orientation and AIDS diagnosis. So many words, so little time. The best approach may be to simply say, “All of the above.”
This cradle-to-crypt documentary about the power-hungry lawyer who died in 1986 recounts the life of a dealmaker and fixer who – as someone in the film politely observes – was “a personality in disarray,” shamelessly making a name and countless millions for himself without regard for any ethical or moral codes. From the early days in which an unrequited crush on WASPy conscripted colleague David Schine prodded the Army-McCarthy congressional hearings (“Have you no decency, sir?”) to his inevitable disbarment from the New York bar for fraudulent conduct out of a Hollywood movie (he purportedly disguised himself as a male nurse to obtain a wealthy comatose man’s signature on a executorship document), the biographical Where’s My Roy Cohn? recites familiar story after story (and a few new ones) about this leathery-skinned, heavy-lidded reptilian creature who slithered through the second half of the 20th century like Cohn the Destroyer. (He was not an attractive man, to his lifelong chagrin.) Well-researched and candid, this documentary will not change anyone’s perception of Cohn or rehabilitate his character in any way. Although his self-loathing insecurities may slightly humanize him, he will always be one-dimensionally evil.
The question in the title is attributed to 45 during the constitutional dust-up in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. What the movie brings to the table are details about the symbiotic relationship between Roy Cohn and Donald Trump over a period of two decades, an association in which an older sociopath mentored a younger sociopath in the school of political treachery and the art of never apologizing. The apprentice learned his lessons well. Try to rationalize powerful men like Cohn and Trump, and you may end up losing your religion. Then again, you don’t need to believe in God to know there’s a devil.