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Review: Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn

You might think last year’s Where’s my Roy Cohn told us all we need to know about the man who spawned the current occupant of the White House. But Ivy Meeropol, the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, thinks there’s a lot more to tell. In her new documentary she’s got an axe to grind and she pulls out everything in her arsenal. If you’ve never heard of Roy Cohn, this film is a trove of anecdotes about him, his “friends” in high places, his self-hating homosexuality, and yes, his mentorship of Trump. It’s a litany of his evil deeds and there’s not really anyone in the film who has a good thing to say about him, except gossip columnist Cindy Adams. He eventually comes off as a pathetic man.

Meeropol tries to find something that made him who he was. That his Uncle Bernie went to Sing Sing for fraud is about all she finds. He was power-hungry from early on and saw the Rosenbergs’ case as a stepping stone. The film puts to rest the idea that Meeropol’s grandparents sold nuclear secrets to the USSR. In fact, even Cohn admits that he framed them. And then he used that win to move on to the McCarthy hearings and build his reputation.

Of course the real dirt in the film is about his relationship with Donald Trump. They first met when Cohn was defending the Trumps against charges of racial discrimination for refusing to rent to African-Americas. And beginning in the 80s, he took the young Don under his wing because he saw something in him. He finagled a deal through his mob buddies for the cement for Trump Tower at a time when nothing was being built in New York because of a cement workers’ strike. He introduced Trump to Reagan and his friends Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. He pushed to make Trump’s sister a federal judge. He also taught the young Trump that when in doubt, sue. And don’t pay your bills. He saw himself and others saw him as the power broker extraordinaire.

He died of AIDS while still denying he was gay and worked against gay rights while he was vacationing in Provincetown and partying his heart out at Studio 54. He was an evil man and his legacy lives on in his most famous mentee. Perhaps that was his plan all along. It’s a maddening film.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: After cringing through “Where’s My Roy Cohn” just this past September, I couldn’t bring myself to watch another film about this evil man who thrived on publicity – good, bad or ugly. Especially ugly. -hb]

Streaming now on HBO.

1 Comments

  1. Hannah Buchdahl, June 18, 2020:

    I couldn’t bring myself to watch a second documentary in one year about this guy because I don’t want to be party to giving him even more attention – which, like a certain current “president” – was really all he cared about. Evil man.

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