Review: 'Where's My Roy Cohn?'

The latest from Taika Waititi gleefully skewers the absurdities of Nazism
THE VILLAIN: Roy Cohn defended mobsters and worse over the course of his notorious career.

In January 2018, the New York Times reported that the president, seeking an Attorney General who'd protect him, shouted "Where's my Roy Cohn?" Trump meant the venomous, unprincipled and ultimately disbarred lawyer Cohn, his mentor in so many things.

Where's My Roy Cohn? examines Cohn's duplicitous life in interviews with surviving cousins, legal partners, a former lover, the one and only (thank God) Roger Stone, and gossip columnist Liz Smith. Hold your nose! Those who prefer their villains disfigured will note that Cohn's own schnoz was marred by botched plastic surgery, making him look like some minor Star Trek: TNG alien.

He was well-born, the son of a judge, a nephew of the head of the Lionel toy train fortune. Trains must have been in his blood; as a 20-ish lawyer, Cohn helped railroad Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to the electric chair, for a treason case that deserved an appeal. He parlayed this judicial double-murder into a job investigating Commies with the equally unscrupulous Senator Joe McCarthy.

Cohn's passionate friendship with fellow investigator G. David Schine didn't keep him from ruining the careers of homosexuals in the government, during the so-called "lavender panic" of the early 1950s. When Cohn tried to pull strings to get Schine out of the Army, it became clear that Cohn had something to hide. Years later, we see Cohn and Gore Vidal on a chat show; Vidal really knew how to spook Cohn by rattling the knob of his closet door, which Cohn kept nailed shut all the way to his death of AIDS.

Working with an infamously corrupt senator didn't end Cohn's career. Within 20 years he'd established himself as the unofficial consigliori of the Gambinos and other Mob figures. His motto was "don't settle, don't apologize, attack." His client, the young Trump, watched and learned. Cohn gamed elections: for services rendered, Ronald Reagan got Cohn access to experimental AIDS drugs at NIH, even at a time when Reagan couldn't bring himself to mention the disease in public.

Prosecutorial as it is, Matt Tyrnauer shows us the weirdly whimsical side of the man: the bedroom Cohn filled up with toy frog and footage of Cohn waterskiing on the polluted Hudson in the days when no one sane would go near the water—I guess even river scum must have professional courtesy. There's not a lot of good to be said about Cohn, except that he's still dead. Sadly, the American maladies Cohn helped spread still rage unchecked.

Where's My Roy Cohn?
3 out of 5 stars
PG-13; 97 Mins.
3Below Theaters & Lounge, San Jose

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