Where's My Roy Cohn? is a blistering account of the infamous lawyer's rise to power and his toxic imprint on American politics. Director Matt Tyrnauer is unflinching in his takedown of a brilliant, but utterly ruthless man. Roy Cohn was a master of Machiavellian tactics. Friends, family members, legal partners, and multiple journalists speak candidly; but the interviews with Cohn himself are truly revealing. He was ferocious, always in attack mode, and never apologetic. Roy Cohn was not burdened by truthfulness or empathy. He embraced narcissism as a cover for self-loathing. Where's My Roy Cohn? paints a brutal portrait. It's a fascinating journey that leads directly to the poisoned discourse today.
The documentary opens with Roy Cohn's entrance to American political theater. At twenty-three, he was instrumental in securing the death penalty for communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the early fifties. His tenacity led the rabid anti-communist FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to recommend Cohn as the legal counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Roy Cohn was instrumental in propagating the Red Scare throughout the country. The archival footage of Cohn whispering in McCarthy's ear as he attacks is chilling.
Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Studio 54) reverses course to Roy Cohn's childhood. Born in New York City two years before The Great Depression, Cohn was the product of an arranged marriage in a wealthy Jewish family. His great-uncle was the inventor of Lionel Trains. Another uncle owned a bank that catered to immigrants. Cohn's father was a powerful Democratic judge with deep connections. An only child to a doting mother, Cohn learned from an early age how to manipulate and exploit people. He was not the tall, dashing son his mother had hoped for. The seeds of self-hatred and deceit were planted during his youth.
Where's My Roy Cohn? continues with his ascendancy in conservative government circles. Cohn had targeted homosexuals as a part of McCarthy's witch hunts. He was a closeted homosexual who went to great lengths to hide his sexual proclivities. Cohn was also ashamed of being Jewish. He did not want to be tainted by his family's religion or business failures. Where's My Roy Cohn? becomes searing and incisive about his hypocrisy. He destroyed lives with impunity, while secretly engaging in clandestine gay relationships.
Roy Cohn took New York City by storm in the decades after McCarthy's censure. He became a feared lawyer who's bruising courtroom skill became a fixture for Mafia clients. Cohn was able to get infamous mobster John Gotti a paltry two years in prison for murder. The seventies saw Cohn shift his interest towards real estate magnates. A young Donald Trump sought his help in fighting racism and housing bias charges from the federal government. Cohn essentially won the case for the Trump family, and then took on Donald Trump as a protege. Cohn's organized crime contacts controlled the construction unions and concrete industry. He was instrumental in helping Donald Trump build Trump Tower.
The documentary explores Roy Cohn's lavish lifestyle. He looted clients and businesses to fund his opulence. He was a fixture in high society. Rubbing elbows with movie stars, politicians, and media figures. Cohn was adept at using the press for publicity and as a weapon against his enemies. His drug use and daily homosexual liaisons were whispered, but kept out of the public arena. Roy Cohn was not invulnerable. He was constantly indicted for his crimes, but skillful enough to evade prosecution. His luck would run out in the eighties when he was finally disbarred.
Where's My Roy Cohn? has many contributors, but several interviews stand out. Roger Stone, another protege and political trickster, learned at the foot of the master. He details the strategies Cohn used to thwart adversaries. More insight is gained from the damaging testimonials of his family members. They cared for him, but despised his cutthroat nature. Roy Cohn is seen and heard in quite a bit of archival footage. He is interviewed by Tom Snyder, Gore Vidal, Larry King, and Mike Wallace. At the end of his life, AIDS-ridden and abandoned by his powerful friends, he refused to acknowledge the disease or his homosexuality. Cohn lied with purpose. He dictated what narrative was acceptable.
Roy Cohn was an unparalleled political puppet master. From Eisenhower to Reagan, and eventually his most accomplished disciple, Donald Trump, Roy Cohn has indelibly left his mark. Where's My Roy Cohn? portrays him as unrepentantly evil with a dark legacy. I suppose your politics will decide whether you agree with the doc's final assessment. Regardless, the film is a compelling, factual account of a man whose machinations continue to reverberate. Where's My Roy Cohn? is a production of Altimeter Films and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.