For me, there truly is no better sleeping aid than watching a documentary on politics. I’m just personally not into that stuff. Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a documentary about the ruthless lawyer, Roy Cohn, a man who struggled with his Jewish heritage and his closeted sexuality. The film is fascinating enough to hold my interest, despite my limited knowledge of Cohn and his malevolent workings.
The film is incredibly well made with talking heads that flawlessly flesh out who Roy Cohn was while also giving an intriguing insight into why he may have been the way he was. Relatives, protégés, and even the man who took him down and got him disbarred tell the film’s story. Cohn came to notoriety in 1954 for being Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel. The documentary delves deep into his criminally unethical actions, which directly led to the execution by electric chair deaths of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a fact that up to his last days Cohn was incredibly proud of.
The film also boldly examines his hypocritical stance on homosexuality. He used his status to give one of his infatuations special treatment in the army after he was drafted and it pretty much backfired. He was a hero to Donald Trump and the recently arrested Roger Stone, and these facts reflect the times we’re living in and the questionable lessons he taught these controversial men.
“…he would aggressively insist that he was a straight man almost to a comical degree.”
The film looks like and feels like a standard documentary, nothing mindblowing or visually interesting. It’s the usual formula of still images, stock footage, and talking head interviews. There’s nothing that makes sets this film apart looks wise, but the subject matter is so interesting that it makes up for the more traditional approach.
This documentary is definitely a cynical take on Roy Cohn. It paints the picture that Cohn was manipulative, petty, self-hating, and hypocritical but it also can’t help but respect his tenacity, his competitive spirit, and his willingness to win at all costs. Director Matt Tyrnauer has interesting interviews with family and even one of Cohn’s lovers that explore the man outside of his tough as nails public persona. It’s fascinating how complicated Cohn was, and how reluctant he was to admit he was a gay man dying of aids.
This film wouldn’t work without a complex subject, and Roy Cohn’s life and philosophies make for a captivating story to explore. It sucks you in with the drama and the ridiculousness lengths Cohn went to in order to hide personal aspects of his life. He wanted to show no weaknesses and no vulnerabilities. The film posits that his sexuality was never a well-kept secret, but he would aggressively insist that he was a straight man almost to a comical degree.
“…a great doc that’s a tad aesthetically stale, but it will have a mass appeal…”
One of my favorite parts about this movie was seeing how corrupt of a lawyer he was, and despite being caught red-handed, he still refused to take accountability. Cohn’s philosophy was “If you admit you were wrong you’re wrong if you refuse you always come off in the right.” This is a fairly sociopathic sentiment, and it is a philosophy Cohn has passed on to certain students of his game.
The film looks like a documentary, nothing mindblowing of visually interesting. It’s your standard still images, stock footage, and talking head interviews. There’s nothing that makes sets this film apart looks wise, but the subject matter is so interesting that it can afford to lose a few points on the visual side of things.
Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a great doc that’s a tad aesthetically stale, but it will have a mass appeal even to those unfamiliar with Cohn and uninterested in politics and law. Cohn was pretty much a nutcase who finagled his way to power by puffing out his chest and bullying others with his aggressive demeanor. There’s a lot to learn from this film in regards to letting these sorts of people deny accountability. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I hope it opens some eyes with its modern relevance.
Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019) Directed by Matt Tyrnauer. Where’s My Roy Cohn? screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
8.5 out of 10