Review by Sean Boelman
Where’s My Roy Cohn?, directed by Matt Tyrauner, is a new politically-charged documentary about the eponymous lawyer who worked with such figures as Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump. Although it does seem at times like it tries to bite off a bit too much for its own good, this is nonetheless a mostly entertaining and relevant look at the political landscape.
Cohn’s story is an interesting one if only because of the sheer amount of history in which he was involved. A key figure in the McCarthy hearings, and later a prominent New York lawyer with many notable clients, his influence on the political arena of the 20th century is often shocking, and the film takes advantage of this to make the story feel even more impactful.
However, perhaps even more interesting than Cohn’s involvement in politics is his sexual identity. The fact that he worked with Joseph McCarthy, one of the key figures in the Red Scare and Lavender Scare, yet died during the AIDS epidemic is absolutely baffling. While the movie doesn’t go into the depth that it probably should regarding this issue, these sequences do pose some thought-provoking questions.
This film is very interesting as a biographical documentary because it goes so far as to proclaim its subject as evil. Most biographies exist to make the subject sympathetic, but Where’s My Roy Cohn? has absolutely no concern for this at all. Rather, the movie hopes that the audience will leave frustrated at the ridiculousness that goes on in that part of the government.
One of the greatest luxuries afforded to this film is that its subject is deceased and has no descendants, and as such, it is able to present this unflinching and ruthless look at the darker aspects of Cohn’s life and career. This darkness is what allows the movie to have the intended political impact. Without it, the film likely would have felt soft and insignificant.
In terms of pacing, the movie moves along pretty well if you are interested in the era in which the bulk of Cohn’s career occurred. If one is not particularly compelled by the inner workings of Cold War-era domestic politics, then this is unlikely to be a riveting watch. However, by providing this unique perspective on events, the film is sure to appeal to the amateur historian in most viewers.
On a technical level, the movie is quite strong. A majority of the film’s story is told through archive footage, but Tyrauner edits it in a way that is immersive and draws you into the story. Unlike most documentaries exploring this era of politics, this movie feels like something more cinematic, not just a history lesson on screen (although there is plenty to learn from Cohn’s tale).
A fascinating portrait of someone whose impact on the political world can still be seen today, Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a dark and angering look at the life of someone who can be best described as a true menace.
Where’s My Roy Cohn? Is now playing in theaters.