Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn (2019)

bully coward victim the story of roy cohn
8.0 Overall Score

Strange guy

Not a documentary for answers about Cohn's life and actions

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Bully.  Coward.  Victim.  The Story of Roy Cohn

Studio: HBO Documentary

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s):  September 29, 2019 (New York Film Festival)/June 18, 2020

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Hunting the evil Communists

Attorney Roy Cohn was a lot of things.  He was part of the team that sent accused spies and Soviet agents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair, an integral part of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearings, a friend of mob bosses and political leaders, and a mentor to Donald Trump.  He was also a gay Jewish Democrat kid from New York…and the two sides don’t exactly match up.  Ivy Meeropol seeks out answers about Roy Cohn and who he really was…with her own personal interest.

Directed by Ivy Meeropol, Bully.  Coward.  Victim.  The Story of Roy Cohn is a biographical documentary on Roy Cohn (February 20, 1927-August 2, 1986).  The documentary premiered at the New York Film Festival and was aired on HBO to positive reviews.

I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of Roy Cohn before Donald Trump came to power.  I knew about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and I knew about the McCarthy hearings, but Cohn wasn’t ever part of that educational background.  I also grew up in 1980s, heard about the AIDS crisis, the parties at 54, and the gay mecca of Provincetown…and the idea that there was a guy threading both worlds (not particularly closeted) didn’t seem to mesh.  Especially when the guy is often described as the worse person by people of multiple backgrounds.

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A conflicting image

The title of the documentary comes from the words which were on Cohn’s panel of the AIDS quilt which Ivy Meeropol and her father accidentally came upon when it was on display in Washington, D.C.  Ivy was directly impacted by Cohn and his actions in that her grandparents were the Rosenbergs.  She grew up with Cohn shaping her life through his actions and her father’s attempts to prove his parents innocent.  Fortunately, the documentary doesn’t come off as simply a piece to completely slander Cohn…in many ways, Cohn does that to himself.

The man really an oddity.  It would be easy to identify him as self-loathing, but even from this documentary, I don’t know that he was.  The documentary is loaded with interviews of people who “knew” him and didn’t even really seem to know him.  Also, the groups seem to fall into two parties like the groups Cohn dealt with…political and tough guy people and socialites and fringe society.  He could deal with and promote a person like Donald Trump or Ronald Reagan but still have Andy Warhol come to a party for him.

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Hanging with Presidents

The bottom line of the documentary is that Cohn was slick.  He knew how to use people, and he knew how to protect himself from being called out for doing it.  Like a blood-thirsty lawyer, he comes off as a bit of a shark who likes the idea that people are talking about him regardless what they are saying (otherwise, he probably would have been a bit more low-key with his homosexually).  He is the type of person who is unapologetic to the very end.

If you go into the documentary and hope for answers, you’re not really going to get them.  If Meeropol had managed to create some grand logical connection between the aspects of Cohn’s life, it would have been disingenuous.  Watching the documentary, I don’t that anyone truly knew Cohn which was the conclusion of some of the interviewees.  Was he a despicable person?  Probably.  I don’t know that he would have any problem admitting either even if he spent time justifying his actions.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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