Sundance 2019 – Where’s My Roy Cohn?

You ever read or listen to any interviews with Steve Kerr or any of the players on the Golden State Warriors? Everybody in that organization will always say that Klay Thompson is just the best teammate. When you ask why, they’ll never tell you why or give examples, they’ll just reiterate that he’s the best teammate. A similar practice runs throughout this documentary, where somebody will tell you about how great Roy Cohn was at manipulating the press and controlling people around him and how much of a slimy bastard he was but then never follow up with an example or reasons why. I don’t doubt that Roy Cohn was great at manipulating the press and controlling people and being a slimy bastard, I don’t doubt that Klay Thompson is a great teammate – I’d just like some knowledge as to why. Director Matt Tyrnauer’s latest was made to inform us about Cohn, who he was and his relationship to Trump and our current political shitshow, but ends up just being 110 minutes of aimless posturing. A wikipedia browse contains more to be learned about Cohn than this film.

Roy Cohn was a prominent NYC lawyer with ties to all sorts of awful things throughout 20th century American politics, from being on McCarthy’s HUAC team, to being a lawyer for the mob, to being a mentor for Roger Stone (there was a hearty laugh when he gets interviewed in the film) and of course, Donald Trump. Cohn’s signature way of lies and deceit to win at all costs obviously left its mark on Trump.

The film spends so much time digging into his closeted homosexuality that it begins to derail itself. I don’t care if he’s gay, as if his homosexuality is meant to be any sort of informer of his moral compass, I just care that the guy was evil and what his connection to our current political state is. We know the point Tyrnauer is trying to make with Cohn and Trump, so just make it, don’t waste our time with stuff that doesn’t matter to the film. It just keeps going “And he was gay but wouldn’t admit it!” with each passage, and that’s all it has to say. In a weird way, it attacks Cohn the same way Cohn attacked others: with vague slander and suggestion. But it doesn’t feel retributive, it just feels trivial. The people being interviewed are seemingly always 3 people removed from Cohn himself. Eventually we’re watching a literal gossip columnist tell us about Cohn. No historians? No professors of law? Just somebody to maybe class up and legitimize this film’s stance? It just spends so much of the film going “Hey! You can draw a line from here to there with Cohn and (insert shady shit)!” and expects that to be enough to support it. Again, you’ve given me the what, now give me the why and the how so you can actually make a point. When it finally does get to the “he’s just like Trump” point at the end it’s so base level that it just feels like a waste.

I’m just getting tired of bad art thinking it’s good just because it’s about something important and worthwhile, because it has good morals and intentions. That’s not enough to make a good film, and doesn’t do the cause nor the artform any good.

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