This review of “Where’s My Roy Cohn” — opening tomorrow in New York and LA, and 100 other screens in the weeks to come — is almost lyrical . . . and is as compelling as the film itself.
“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,” sang Leonard Cohen, who died the day before Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, which he had confidently predicted. “Everybody knows the fight was fixed / The poor stay poor, the rich get rich / That’s how it goes / Everybody knows.” It’s hard to imagine a phrase more evocative of our era. Everybody knows that at least 22 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct, everybody knows that he lies compulsively, and everybody knows that he lacks the basic mental fitness for office. Everybody knows that the president is a racist and a xenophobe who draws fervent support from outright white nationalists. Everybody knows the seas are rising, and everybody knows it’s going to get much worse.
Everybody knows, too, that the grotesque qualities embodied by the president are widespread among the Manhattan elite that tolerated and nurtured him, from the real estate sector to the tabloid press and from NBC to Fox News. Just like everybody knows that Jeffrey Epstein was a pedophile, and everybody knew it when he was hosting VIPs at his Upper East Side mansion and on his private jet. Everybody knows that after his apparent suicide, most of his elite associates will escape any justice. That’s how it goes.
This is the unspoken, and perhaps unintended, takeaway from Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary, Where’s My Roy Cohn?, whose title is borrowed from Donald Trump’s reported exclamation after finding his then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions insufficiently loyal and ruthless. Tyrnauer, to judge from the quotes that he uses to frame his story, wants to cast Roy Cohn—the crooked New York lawyer whose sordid career was a common thread linking Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and eventually Trump—as the personification of evil. The word “evil” comes up a lot, and it certainly fits Cohn, with his dead eyes and manifest lack of empathy or scruples. Cohn, we’re told repeatedly, established the now-familiar playbook for all of the nastiest figures in American public life: Sidestep legitimate inquiries, always go on the offensive, attack the press, demagogue against minorities, make headlines, break laws, win at all costs, and shamelessly taunt the losers. Trump was merely his protégé.
“A rollicking, salacious documentary, fast and furious.” — Chicago Tribune
“A haunting yet fair and humane portrait of an infamous figure.” — PARADE
Not included in the film is this tidbit that comes from one of his cousins. It seems Roy’s mother Dara — a force — “over-shared” in front of her little boy the information that one of his testicles had not descended. I share — perhaps overshare — that with you because it’s hard not to wonder how deeply embarrassing he may have found that, and how it may have scarred him.
Roy and I attended the same high school — he, 20 years before me — and though he must have been a lot smarter (he graduated from law school at 20), we shared a terrible secret: we liked guys. He would go on to deny that to his death; I would go on to blab it to the world — even the Vice President of China.
Of course, I was oblivious to all this when, just turned 7, I watched my mother watching the Army-McCarthy hearings on our black and white TV. It had to be the most boring thing ever.
Only now, after watching “Where’s My Roy Cohn,” do I realize those hearings stretched on for 36 days (!!!) and that the entire event seems to have been precipitated by then 23-year-old Roy’s love for David Schine.
How he, who was gay (and J. Edgar Hoover, who was gay), could have carried on their witch hunts, not just for communists but for homosexuals.
“What a world.”
Yet as the film makes clear, Roy had lots of fans and friends, straight and gay, from the mafia to the Oval Office (Nancy Reagan called to thank him for getting her Ronnie elected president).
Two of them — exceptionally bright gay lawyers not mentioned in the film — were close friends of mine.
“How can you be his friend?!” I would ask every time they told me some crazy funny story about Roy.
They would just laugh and say, well, yes, we know, but he’s so amazingly smart and generous and fun.
I met Cohn only once, at a large brightly lit gay party in Miami in the mid-80s. It was as brief as it was disconcerting. I grew up admiring the FBI, not the mob-connected. Now we have a President — Cohn’s protege — who’s long himself been mob-connected and whose enemy is the FBI.
What a world.