Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Extremely Vile and Incredibly Amoral

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Documentary film “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” gives us a close look into the life and career of Roy M. Cohn, a powerful and notorious lawyer who has still exerted his toxic influence on American society and politics even though he died more than 30 years ago. To be frank with you, it is rather captivating to see how vile and amoral this wily, ruthless, and hypocritical piece of work was in many aspects, and the documentary did a fairly good job of illuminating his evil brilliance as well as that perpetual pugnaciousness throughout his whole life.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family in New York City, 1927, Cohn was already quite ambitious around the time when he graduated from his law school in 1947 and then passed a bar examination in the very next year. Not long after beginning to work in the US Department of Justice, he soon came to draw the attention of J. Edgar Hoover thanks to his tireless activities involved with the rise of anti-communism in the American society during that time, and Hoover subsequently had Cohn work directly for US Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was in the middle of his infamous anti-communist witch hunt at that time. Quickly becoming McCarthy’s trusted right-hand guy, Cohn diligently and zealously spread the terror of McCarthyism in public, and he certainly gained considerable public notoriety as deliberately manipulating the legal process surrounding the Rosenberg trial in 1951.

Of course, as many of you know, the tables were eventually turned for Cohn and McCarthy several years later. When they happened to target the US Army for a petty personal matter involved with a certain figure who might have been more than a close personal friend to Cohn, the US Army retaliated to this political attack with vengeance, and that consequently led to that famous sobering question from one of the committee members assigned to scrutinize the case between McCarthy and the US Army: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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As a consequence, McCarthy’s political career was totally finished with the infamy to last forever in the American modern history, but Cohn managed to survive this grand fall as instantly resigning from his position and then going back to New York City. After joining a prestigious law firm, he soon embarked on climbing up to the elite class of the city, and the documentary details on how ruthlessly he advanced for getting more money and, above all, more strings to be pulled via whoever he ingratiated himself with. Around the 1960s, he was a well-known figure among the prominent high-class members in the city, and he also let himself get associated with a number of notorious high-ranking members of New York mafia families.

Around the early 1970s, Cohn was introduced to a young man eager to be a big-time real estate businessman just like his father, and that lad was none other than Donald J. Trump. Discerning that he and Trump had many common things between them including sheer ambition and belligerence, Cohn came to regard Trump as his protégé, and, as attested by their common friend Roger Stone, he taught Trump a lot of amoral advices and dirty tactics which are certainly the basis of Trump’s unbelievable political rise at present. When Trump and his father happened to be sued for racial discrimination, Cohn advised Trump to muddle the issues by any means necessary, and, as shown from many recent cases, Trump is still sticking to that strategy without any regret or hesitation.

As entering the 1980s, Cohn was at the height of his power and influence. Thanks to his manipulation tactics on the 1980 US Presidential Election, Ronald Reagan, who was incidentally involved with anti-communism activities during his acting career in Hollywood, got successfully elected, and Reagan’s wife showed personal gratitude to Cohn after the election result came out. In the meantime, Trump built his first Trump Tower in New York City, and we hear about how shady the construction process of that infamous building was from the very beginning.

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However, Cohn also came to face his comeuppance which was bound to happen sooner or later. In 1985, he got himself into several serious legal troubles, and these troubles led to him getting disbarred in the end. Not only Trump but also most of those powerful and wealthy figures used to hang around Cohn began to distance themselves from Cohn after that humiliating public moment, and things got worse for him as it turned out that he was suffering from AIDS, which was probably resulted from the promiscuous sex life hidden behind his back.

Even before his eventual death in 1986, Cohn refused to admit that he was a gay and had AIDS, and we see how hypocritical he was during the last miserable months of his life. With some help from Reagan, he managed to get an experimental AIDS treatment, but he kept denying his serious illness as well as his homosexuality in public, and he adamantly insisted to the end that he was dying due to liver cancer.

In conclusion, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is engaging for its sharp, compelling presentation of its undeniably loathsome human subject, and director/co-producer Matt Tyrnauer deserves some praise for competently juggling archival footage clips and various interviewees. Although the documentary does not delve that deep into Cohn’s lasting toxic legacy, we all know too well that it is still shaping the American society and politics even at this point – and I am afraid we will see more bad consequences from it during this decade.

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