Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Where's My Roy Cohn?: A Review


There's no sympathy for this devil in Where's My Roy Cohn, the documentary on the life and career of one of the most notorious and hated men in America. The film is entertaining, insightful but also gleefully partisan, delighting in its own malevolence as much as Cohn himself would.

Roy Cohn, scion of a wealthy Jewish family was doted obsessively over by his unattractive mother and generally disinterested father. Blessed (or cursed) with a brilliant legal mind, Cohn was an unattractive man in every way imaginable.

He was EVIL with all caps: a self-hating Jew and self-hating closeted homosexual who persecuted his fellow Jews and fellow homosexuals with venom. If I understand Where is My Roy Cohn? correctly, the entire Army-McCarthy hearings was the result of a thwarted romance with the interestingly-named David Schine. 

Despite his hand in the rise of McCarthyism, Cohn himself not only survived by thrived, moving to New York where he became in essence a legal hitman, going after anyone with sadistic pleasure for the right price. He defended Mafia dons and The Donald himself, future President Donald Trump, becoming a mentor to the brash Queens real estate mogul.

Eventually, all things must come to an end. Having managed to be simultaneously hated and loved in New York high society, his addiction to pretty young boys eventually cost him his life. He refused to ever come out of the closet or admit he had AIDS, but his only genuine legacy is the politics of evil with which we live with now.

Image result for where's my roy cohnWhere's My Roy Cohn? is supposedly something President Trump said with regards to how his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was failing in his duty to protect Trump personally versus serve the nation. The film is involving, entertaining, but never skimps on making Roy Cohn essentially the real-life Rosemary's Baby. Director Matt Tyrnauer never misses a chance to show Cohn in an almost Satanic light where even what in others could be seen as an endearing eccentricity comes across as nefarious. For most people, a fondness for collecting frog figures and plush toys would appear almost sweet if a bit odd. In the film, it's a little short step above drinking human blood.

Granted, Roy Cohn was so reprehensible a person that even his various cousins interviewed for Where's My Roy Cohn? had little if anything positive to say about him. One totally bizarre story they relate is on how the family's Seder had a very odd hiccup. According to a cousin, when he as the youngest asks the first of the Four Questions, "What makes this night different from all others?", Mrs. Cohn imperiously declares that it's different because the maid's dead and under the table! The housekeeper had died but rather than call the police, she was hidden under the dinner table so as to not interrupt the Seder. The story is both hilarious and insane, but it's reflective of the bonkers world of the Cohns.

However, the film seems to be at times almost unhinged about its subject. It comes close to suggesting that Roy Cohn literally murdered someone aboard his yacht, the appropriately-named Defiance. Yes, it would have been accidentally given that Cohn allegedly merely set the Defiance on fire to collect the insurance money and didn't actually plan to have a crewman incinerated. However, that's not to say Where's My Roy Cohn? doesn't want you to think the crewman's death was something that Cohn lost no sleep over.

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The loathing for the subject is so great that when we see McCarthy nemesis Joseph Welch slyly use the terms "pixie" and "fairy" as a not-so-subtle dig at Cohn during the Army-McCarthy hearings, the film is edited in such a way as to almost cheer on these homophobic slurs. The film also won't go near any suggestion that either Julius or Ethel Rosenberg were guilty of anything, a subject that is still subject to fierce debate. It takes the stand that the Rosenbergs were framed, whether they were or not unimportant so long as to validate the wickedness of Cohn.

While the film is rich in information and spends its last half-hour connecting Cohn's evil with Trump's evil, Where's My Roy Cohn? again seemed to slide into farce about the monstrosity that was Roy Cohn. Lorne Balfe's score never let up on being menacing and dark. Never was the sampling of Ravel's Bolero made to sound so Satanic.  To me, the music in particular seemed over-the-top in its "Roy Cohn is EVIL INCARNATE!" motif.

Yes, Roy Cohn is not a man whom anyone would mourn. He was by all accounts a repulsive, reprehensible, loathsome creature: cruel, hypocritical, vindictive, unforgiving and unforgivable, a villainous shadowy figure of darkness. Where's My Roy Cohn? is very entertaining and informative, but the film is at times a bit too much like its subject itself: more interested in destroying with no apologies or regrets than in anything else. 


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