WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Matt Tyrnauer

Roy M. Cohn and Joseph McCarthy in Where's My Roy Cohn? (2019)

This is a well-researched, provocative and revealing documentary about the infamous lawyer Roy Cohn, an ambitious, unscrupulous and aggressive lawyer and power broker who shaped American politics in the second half of the twentieth century.

Having graduated from Columbia Law School at the age of 20, Cohn successfully prosecuted Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who had been accused of treason and selling nuclear secrets to the Russians. The pair were executed, but some questions remain about Cohn’s tactics during the trial. A staunch anti-Communist, Cohn then famously worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy on the House Un-American Activities Committee of the early 50s, the Communist witch hunts which destroyed a lot of lives. Cohn went on to defend Mafia bosses, manipulate the political system and advise Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

And he defended a young New York real estate tycoon named Donald Trump and his father in a Federal lawsuit. He subsequently formed a strong friendship with Trump, becoming a mentor, teaching him many of the tricks of his trade and showing him how to get away with his corrupt business practices. We learn about some of the corruption involved in creating the Trump Tower in New York.

This fascinating documentary unfolds largely in chronological fashion, tracing his rise and ultimate fall from grace, from his birth in 1927 through to his disbarment and death from AIDS related illness in 1986. Cohn kept his sexuality a well- guarded secret, remaining firmly in the closet for much of his life. The film also looks at his close friendship with fellow lawyer G David Schine, with whom he was allegedly infatuated.

The director is Matt Tyrnauer who is best known for his documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor. He has shaped the film into an unflattering portrait of an amoral and corrupt powerbroker with no moral compass, a self-loathing Jew and homosexual who abused his power to persecute people. The film suggests that his aggressive manner was shaped by his domineering mother and his own closeted homosexuality.

Cohn had a reputation as a pit bull in the courtroom for his tactics of fear, deflection and misdirection, all of which made him the go to guy for many gangsters and powerful people in legal trouble. He surrounded himself with rich and powerful people and socialised with the elite of New York society. Tyrnauer has had access to a wealth of archival footage, television interviews, and several candid and unflattering interviews with some of Cohn’s colleagues, which reveal his hypocrisy and complex nature.

This is definitely a one-sided and biased picture, but that was Tyrnauer’s intention – he is attempting to explore the seeds of the world we find ourselves in today, one of fear mongering, fake news and corruption on a grand scale. The film takes its title from a quote attributed to President Trump when he seemed unable to make the Mueller investigation into his ties with Russia simply go away.

Given Cohn’s notoriety it is surprising that there hasn’t been a documentary made about him before now; ironically, we now get two in the same year, although this is the first to be released locally.

★★★☆

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