The documentary ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’ finds an answer to its question
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Starring: Ken Auletta, Roy M. Cohn and Roger Stone
“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” – Roy Cohn died in 1986, but 33 years later, this American lawyer’s influence is shaping U.S. policy, dominating 24-hour news cycles and infuriating or bringing joy to a politically-split United States’ electorate.
You see, Cohn was Donald Trump’s lawyer in the 1970s and 80s, and decades later, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Robert Mueller’s investigation in 2017, the current President of the United States allegedly asked a question.
Where’s my Roy Cohn?
Director Matt Tyrnauer’s informative documentary – that also doubles as a 97-minute on-screen case of déjà vu – answers this question: Who is Roy Cohn?
Born into wealth in the Bronx, NY, this only child graduated from Columbia University Law School at 20, and – because of his age - the state made him wait a year to take the bar exam. (Geez, and what were you doing at 20?)
After prosecuting a hyper-infamous trial in 1951, Cohn became Sen. Joe McCarthy’s trusted chief counsel. During the McCarthy hearings, Cohn was regularly seen in courtrooms and whispering shadowy advice to the aforementioned lawmaker, the most polarizing political figure of the 1950s.
From there, Cohn’s career takes off into murkier, darker heights in New York City. Tyrnauer does not whisper, but - grabs a microphone and a couple dozen megaphones and - shouts from the tallest skyscrapers about this lawyer’s relentless, grimy panache of self-absorption and persistent ambition. All the while, Tyrnauer interviews journalists, Cohn’s relatives and even conservative pundit Roger Stone, as they dissect and reflect on the man’s wholly controversial, but massively effective, philosophies.
Never admit you’re wrong.
Always claim victory, even in defeat.
Know the political value of wrapping yourself in the American flag…and more.
Certainly the parallels between Roy Cohn and Donald J. Trump become frighteningly or beautifully (depending upon your political stripe) clear, and although Tyrnauer’s film is a straight-up documentary, he carries a slanted view while proving his thesis. The filmmaker, however, does score points by including Cohn’s friend Stone, and journalist Ken Auletta’s audio interview is the movie’s backbone, as we hear Cohn’s first-hand perspectives.
Still, comparing President Trump to Roy Cohn is far from a moral compliment. Quite the opposite. The doc presents that Cohn courted nefarious clients, bathed in scandal and committed high larceny in plain sight, while also bellowing the biggest lies to newspapers and telling the smallest ones - without a second thought - to his closest allies and confidants.
For those who loathe President Trump, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is reliving a daily nightmare, as Cohn is that irresponsible uncle who babysits his nephew on weekends. Instead of putting together puzzles or playing catch in the backyard, he’s preaching hard lessons, sharing packs of cigarettes and hustling tourists out of their money in Time Square.
“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is not a pleasant, temporary reprieve from the news, campaign ads and the latest but he said-but she said-but they said-but we said-but the dog said. This eye-opening tutorial convincingly draws a line – even more permanent than a Sharpie – between Cohn and Trump, and the answer to the film’s title is obvious.
For better or worse, President Trump should look in the mirror.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.