You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’

The ugly legacy of lawyer Roy Cohn, aide to Joseph McCarthy and mentor to Donald Trump, is detailed by Matt Tyrnauer’s incisive doc.

Matt Tyrnauer
Roger Stone, Ken Auletta, Liz Smith, Anne Roiphe, David Cay Johnston.
Release Date:
Sep 20, 2019

Rated PG-13  Running time: 97 MIN.

Official Site: http://www.altimeterfilms.com/wheres-my-roy-cohn

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” asked Senator Joseph Welch of Joseph McCarthy and his young colleague, Roy Cohn, during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. On the basis of Matt Tyrnauer’s stellar documentary, had the latter been struck by a rare honest impulse, he would have categorically responded in the negative. Inspired in part by the director’s 2018 triumph “Studio 54” (in which Cohn played a part), “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” details the rise and fall of the legal bulldog, who stood by McCarthy and mentored Donald Trump with a ruthless unscrupulousness that knew no bounds, and who died in 1986 of an AIDS affliction he denied to the end. A biographical portrait that doubles as an origin story for today’s amoral political landscape, its marriage of incisiveness and timeliness should make it an indie hit this fall.

The words “manipulate” and “power” are heard ad nauseam in “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” — a fact that speaks to the near-universal consensus about the character and motivations of the lawyer, who made a name for himself by helping prosecute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951, and then by whispering sweet anti-communist nothings in the ear of Joseph McCarthy. The only son of a Jewish mother who vigorously doted on him, and with whom he shared a superficial ugliness that matched his internal repugnance, Cohn became a star thanks to his formidable legal mind and, just as importantly, his eagerness to break any and all laws that stood in the way of his goals.

Those were fame, money and influence over the country’s elites, as made abundantly clear by the many talking heads featured in “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” Cohn’s public image was further enhanced by the aforementioned Army-McCarthy hearings, which centered around his desire to get special military treatment for his colleague (and rumored boyfriend) G. David Schine. That endeavor, which everyone knew was rooted in his sexual feelings for Schine (the word “fairy” is even spoken during the hearings), directly contradicted his work alongside McCarthy persecuting homosexuals. It was the greatest, if not the only, example of Cohn’s consuming hypocrisy, which was also evident in his touting of fairness and forthrightness even as he lied, cheated and stole to his heart’s content, and his habit of cloaking himself in the American flag while subverting democratic institutions whenever it suited him.

According to “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”, it suited him all the time, be it when he successfully fought three separate indictments over professional wrongdoing, smeared political candidates through leaked press items, or helped his protégé, Donald Trump, beat the rap (courtesy of a settlement) on 1975 housing discrimination charges. Though he only factors into a relatively small portion of Tyrnauer’s latest, Trump looms large over these proceedings, since Cohn’s preferred codes of conduct – skirting the law and playing dirty at every opportunity; using lies and deceptions to divert attention away from misdeeds; feigning patriotism as a means of cloaking criminality – are echoed, on a daily basis, by our current commander-in-chief.

Aside from new on-camera chats with journalists, relatives, and acolyte Roger Stone (whose muted commentary suggests even he was in awe of Cohn’s black heart), Tyrnauer’s film is primarily comprised of archival TV clips, newsreel footage and audio interviews in which Cohn uncomfortably sidesteps questions about his sexual orientation, and confesses that his greatest failing is his sociopathic inability to sympathize with others. “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is such a dedicated work of montage that it boasts no official cinematographer (8 cameramen are credited), and editors Andrea Lewis and Tom Maroney’s shrewd juxtapositions and employment of stock clips evocatively capture the atmosphere in which Cohn operated, and the incongruities between his personal and private selves.

Tyrnauer’s decision to eschew references to “Angels in America,” which famously immortalized Cohn as an AIDS-era villain, is a bit puzzling, and pointedly felt. Nonetheless, his examination of this attorney-most-foul is otherwise comprehensive, and shrewd enough to realize that Cohn’s life story is so relevant to the here and now, the issue need not be openly addressed at all.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Where’s My Roy Cohn?'

Reviewed at Sony screening room, New York, NY, Aug. 26, 2019. (In Sundance Film Festival.) Rated PG-13. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: A Sony Pictures Classics release of an Altimeter Films production, in association with Concordia Studio, Wavelength Prods. Producer: Matt Tyrnauer, Corey Reeser, Marie Brenner, Joyce Deep, Andrea Lewis. Executive producers: Davis Guggenheim, Jonathan Silberberg, Nicole Stott, Shannon Dill, Jenifer Westphal, Joe Plummer, Lyn Davis Lear, John Boccardo, Derek Esplin, Ernest H. Pomerantz, Lynn Pincus, Elliott Sernel, Andrea Van Beuren. Co-producers: Blaine Vess, Andrew Tobias, Randy Fertel, Jamie Wolf, Graham High, Alison Schnapp, Micah Baskir. Co-executive producers: Nion McEvoy, Leslie Berriman.

Crew: Director: Matt Tyrnauer. Camera (color, widescreen, HD). Editors: Andrea Lewis, Tom Maroney. Music: Lorne Balfe.

With: Roger Stone, Ken Auletta, Liz Smith, Anne Roiphe, David Cay Johnston.

More Film

  • Mackenzie Davis Terminator Dark Fate

    ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “Terminator: Dark Fate.” Ads placed for the sci-fi action film had an estimated media value of $6.81 million through Sunday for 796 national ad airings [...]

  • Judy & Punch review

    Damon Herriman Stands Out as 'The Nightingale' and 'Lambs of God' Lead AACTA Nominations

    Dark thriller, “The Nightingale” and miniseries “Lambs of God” lead the pack at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. In nominations announced on Wednesday, they picked up 15 and 18 nods, respectively. Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale” was one of six films nominated in the best film category. With others including Mirrah Foulkes’ [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B Joins Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 9'

    Cardi B has joined the cast of Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9” in an undisclosed role. It’s the rapper’s first movie part since her role as the stripper Diamond in STX’s drama “Hustlers.” Vin Diesel disclosed the casting Tuesday in a post on his Instagram account with a video that showed him and Cardi B [...]

  • James Wan

    Film News Roundup: James Wan's Horror Thriller 'Malignant' Gets August Release

    In today’s film news roundup, James Wan’s “Malignant” gets a late-summer release, a Rita Hayworth documentary is shooting and Women in Animation have announced diversity awards winners. RELEASE DATE Warner Bros. has set an Aug. 14 release date for James Wan’s horror thriller “Malignant.” Wan will direct the movie, based on a story by Wan [...]

  • Michael Shannon Benedict Cumberbatch Tuppence Middleton

    How Martin Scorsese Saved 'Current War' From Harvey Weinstein

    Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets to release his version of his long-in-the-making “The Current War.” The film, about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, was originally set to be distributed by the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein recut it, much to Gomez-Rejon’s chagrin. To make matters worse, Weinstein premiered the movie at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content