Matt Tyrnauer’s “Where’s My Roy Cohn” is an absorbing doc on one of the most brooding figures of 20th century America. Yes, this is a documentary about ruthless and coniving lawyer Roy Cohn, a self-hating Jew that was also a closeted homosexual his entire life. Despite the limited delving into Cohn’s malevolent inner workings, this is a compulsively watchable doc about a man whose hatred towards his own self turned into toxic revenge against his enemies.
Sony Pictures Classics were nice in setting up a screening for me of the film, especially after having missed it at this past January’s Sundance Film Festival. A rep for SPC even confirmed to me that they are most definitely going for a Best Documentary Oscar nomination when it comes to this film and I personally don’t see why it can’t happen. Although not as incisive as it wishes to be, it’s about time someone tackled Cohn’s gloomy but fascinating life. You can add ‘Cohn’ to the shortlist of Doc contenders so far this year, which includes “Apollo 11,” “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” “Cold Case Hammerskjold,” “Honeyland,” “Midnight Traveler,” and “Ask. Dr. Ruth.”
Cohn came to notoriety in 1954 for being Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel. Working together, the pair ended up sending to the electric chair two Americans found guilty of spying for the Soviets, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But it’s Cohn’s post-McCarthy life that is more of concern here, especially his sleazy three-decade stint as New York City’s most feared lawyer.
Of course, whenever Cohn is mentioned these days it has to do with Donald Trump and the peculiar friendship they had. Cohn took in the New York real estate mogul as his own protégé, the doc suggests Trump was influenced by Cohn’s mantras which include a total and utter refusal to apologize for anything and the weaponizing of lawyers/lawsuits towards any foes.
Director Tyrnauer has a slew of interesting interviews lined up here; From Cohn’s own family members to one of Cohn’s lovers to even Trump confidant Roger Stone exploring the tough-guy shenanigans of the mob-connected Cohn during the Reagan White House days.. It’s all rendered in visually standard ways by Tyrnauer who fills his movie with still images, stock footage, and talking head interviews. However, if there is anything fascinating about the cynical and gloomy “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” it’s not Tyrnauer’s by-the-books stylings but, rather, the subject matter himself. Cohn is depicted as nothing less than a manipulative hypocrite with the kind of competitive spirit that would scare off most of his enemies, especially the NYPD and Washington establishment. Most fascinating of all was Cohn’s closeted homosexuality; despite the hundreds of male lovers he had throughout his life, Cohn rejected and denied that he was gay until the day he died. In fact, even when he was dying of AIDS he never admitted he had the virus, opting to tell the media that it was liver cancer.
The maddening but endlessly fascinating Cohn had a life worth depicting on-screen, even when Tyrnauer restricts this depiction of one of the most towering and imposing figureheads of our time to just a 97 minute documentary, the result is nothing short of absorbing, mostly because there is so much to explore when it comes to Roy Cohn that a lengthier and more no-hold-barred doc will eventually be made. For now, “Where’s My Roy Cohn” is most definitely an essential watch.