Movie Review: Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Where’s My Roy Cohn? — a film review by Gary Chew

If you’re like me, and tend to duck out during the closing credits of a movie, here’s what you’re missing if you do as Where’s My Roy Cohn? finishes off: “Donald J. Trump refused to respond to several requests from the makers of this film for comments.”

Where's My Roy Cohn
A still from Where’s My Roy Cohn? by Matt Tyrnauer. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ap/REX/Shuttersock.

My guess as to why Donald didn’t get back to the people who put this scathing documentary together is likely to be as follows: seeing the history of Roy Cohn implementing his “black magic” to twist the law and justice while slipping the business-shaft to others, translates to Trump himself, now in the Oval Office, being remotely controlled by “The Ghost of Roy Cohn.” This was a creepy thought when it came to me; but wow, how could it be any other way? It’s Halloween time.

The commonality between Cohn and Trump … in terms of social status, influence and locale … is also unsettling: wealthy families, connections to banking and big city real estate; another being each man was coddled as a child. The film maintains that Cohn, as an adult male, remained a mama’s boy.

Where's My Roy CohnTicking off some Cohn’s cantankerous actions, you’ll get the close-up-skinny about Roy and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s efforts to expose communists and homosexuals in government and the community at large. Following that dust-up, came Cohn’s machinations for getting Pvt. G. David Schine easy duty in the U-S Army. Schine was an heir to a wealthy hotel chain and an apparent lover of Cohn’s. I recall the Army-McCarthy Hearings of the Fifties. Great political theater? I don’t think so. However, had today’s TV viewers watched those proceedings with the sophistication they now possess, the country would have be on the floor in front of a television laughing.

Cohn had famous people backing him up as he was being disbarred in the State of New York in 1986. Barbara Walters, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Donald J. Trump are three who queued up for Roy. Cohn was instrumental in finessing John Anderson to run as a Third Party candidate against Jimmy Carter as the president was also being challenged by Ronald Reagan. The more liberal votes split between Carter and Anderson, allowing Reagan to take the presidency in 1981 (I didn’t know that was going on at the time, by the way. My memory tells me that not many other citizens did either.) Cohn was great at getting things to happen the way he wanted. Clever and smart – but hold the scruples.

Where's My Roy CohnI’ll never forget seeing Al Pacino play Cohn in the HBO mini-series Angels in America. Much of that series (from Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play) dealt with the final years of Roy as he was dying of HIV-AIDS. The most riveting moment in that production was Kushner imagining the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg appearing at Cohn’s death bed in a hospital. The two “chatted” a bit. What made the scene work so well was that Meryl Streep played Mrs. Rosenberg. It is truly one of the great “get even pieces” of writing ever with regard to Roy Cohn getting his comeuppance for the cruel things he foisted on others and hypocrisy he lived.

Near the end of Where’s My Roy Cohn?, one of the many narrators — seen on camera and/or heard off screen  — in relating what she knows of Cohn first-hand, utters this most quotable quote, “Roy was an evil … produced by certain parts of the American culture.”

Although some of us don’t need the reminder … Where’s My Roy Cohn? … is a smack-in-the-face film that relates the reloaded rhetoric to say: history really does repeat itself. Yes, but holy cow … right now … here at Halloween?

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Gary Chew
Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
Gary Chew

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