Before the film title WHERE’S MY ROY COHN? first appears on the screen, the audience is given a quick introduction of the infamous lawyer. He loves to fight power, he is a caged animal, he loves a good fight etc. But director Tynmauer ensures that his audience knows of the evil that Cohn has amassed in his career. Great villains usually make for good movies,
and Matt Tyrnauer certainly has a doozy in Roy Cohn. The question is whether Tynmauer will create some sympathy for this supposedly evil person.
In Cohn’s own word as captured unarchive footage: “I would do anything to get my client to win.” And the voiceover goes on to say that he did not care what the law is, but who the judge would be.
The doc unfolds in (almost) chronological order from the time he was born in the U.S. to his rise to fame as counsel to McCarthy and to become the all-powerful lawyer. Firstly, director Tynmauer makes it interesting by starting on Cohn’s mother. She was the ugliest girl on the block who no man wanted to marry. From a clever boy at school, Roy Cohn is shown to grow to become the ruthless lawyer/political power broker whose 28-year career ranged from serving as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt to molding the career a young real estate developer named Donald Trump.
In the ’50s, Cohn formulated his playbook, ushering in a paranoid style of American politics. Today it’s resurfaced – with scare tactics, divisive rhetoric, and aggressions against the vulnerable.
Cohn had many celebrity friends like Andy Warhol, Aristotle Onassis and George Steinbrenner. He was a regular at Studio 54, often accompanied by his male lovers, while adamantly denying his homosexuality to everyone. The portion of the film revealing Cohn’s homosexuality is the most intriguing and entertaining. It is as if God made him gay to punish him. To make matters worse, Cohn was ugly and widely believed to have undergone plastic surgery to having sex with a different boy every day, often with someone poor. But he had a good slim body, doing his regimental 200 sit-ups daily.
Some of Cohn’s best-known exploits include: spearheading J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy’s crusade against homosexuals, helping pave Ronald Reagan’s path to the oval office, torpedoing Geraldine Ferraro’s historic bid for the vice presidency, keeping many American
mafiosos out of jail and looting the bank accounts of his legal clients.
Mixing archival footage (including journalist Ken Auletta’s ’70s audio interview with Cohn, never heard by the public before) and contemporary interviews (cousins, an ex-boyfriend, gossip columnist Liz Smith, now fallen politico Roger Stone et al.), the film also offers clues to his behaviour (a doting mother, insecurities about his looks).
The film ends with the climax of Cohn going out fighting to the very end. Disbarred in 1986, he went out defiantly, dying five weeks later at age 59, never admitting that he had AIDS. Cohn is the true real life villain everyone loves to hate.