ROY COHN WAS A BRUTAL GENIUS, AN ATTORNEY WITH A FUTURE, AND HE KNEW IT. FROM MCCARTHY'S COMMUNIST WITCH HUNTS TO HIS FIGHT AGAINST THE KENNEDYS, ROY COHN WAS THE POWER BEHIND CLOSED DOORSRUTHLESS, DESTRUCTIVE, POWER HUNGR... more »Y AND INSATIABLE, TO MANY HEWAS A NATIONAL HERO AND TO MANY MORE A NATIONAL DISGRACE.« less
"When Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy muscled his way onto a committee investigating communist subversives in the government, he brought along with him Roy Cohn. The son of a New York state judge and a brilliant lawyer in his own right, young Cohn saw McCarthy's committee as a way to increase his own social and political position. After all, this hotshot lawyer helped send the Rosenbergs to the electric chair, so a stint busting Reds in the government seemed a logical progression for him. After the collapse of McCarthyism and the subsequent waning of the Red Scare, Roy moved into a private legal practice in New York. Many considered this lawyer one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country, and Cohn got plenty of work in high profile divorce cases and even worked with members of the Mafia on occasion. Roy Cohn died in 1986, a disbarred lawyer reduced to a shattered husk of the dealmaker he once was. HBO thought Roy Cohn an intriguing enough character to fund this shrill 1992 effort starring the venerable James Woods as "Citizen Cohn."The movie tells us that young Cohn quickly fell under the spell of his overbearing mother, an unnaturally close relationship that would last as long as she lived. Roy's father, a liberal judge with the firm idea that "what's right never changes," soon comes to despise his overly ambitious son and his morally suspect ways. After assisting in the conviction of the Rosenbergs, Cohn ingratiates himself with McCarthy in order to serve as the junior senator's chief counsel and personal attack dog. Moreover, Roy tells McCarthy that making Bobby Kennedy chief counsel for the committee (yes, RFK did a stint with McCarthy) could raise ugly charges of anti-Semitism because most of the men called in to testify are Jews. McCarthy soon regrets his decision as Cohn quickly takes over by grabbing the spotlight and developing most of the cases. The new chief counsel even insists on hiring G. David Shine, a hotel heir who doesn't know a thing about how to conduct a proper witch-hunt. It isn't any time at all before Cohn threatens people like Dashiell Hammett and the engineers working for the Voice of America in a shameful series of interrogations resulting in wrecked careers and ruined lives. When the United States Army drafts Shine, Cohn launches a personal vendetta against the Department of the Army. His goal is to procure an assignment for Shine on the committee, but the Army sees things differently. The military recorded dozens of threats Roy made against them and threaten to release them to the media if McCarthy and Cohn refuse to back off. The case does go to committee and the Army's attorney, Joseph Welch, publicly destroys the Wisconsin senator.The rest of the film shows Roy in his post-McCarthy days: the endless deal making, the unethical behavior, and his closely guarded double life. We see Cohn attempting to work with J. Edgar Hoover to bring down the hated Bobby Kennedy, now the Attorney General of the United States and a man with a personal vendetta against the former McCarthy acolyte. There is a trial where the government brings a host of charges against Roy and cannot make them stick. We see how Cohn accepts money from people as "loans" and then promptly claims that these loans were "gifts." Through it all, no one can ever touch Roy Cohn; he is "the gingerbread boy," a blazing comet that threatens to destroy anyone who stands in his way. His amazement that no one stops him from lying, cheating, stealing, and intimidating people only serves to make him more obnoxious. No one tells Roy Cohn no, and he knows it. The narrative technique used to tell his story is through flashback, as the ghosts of those Roy once terrorized visit him as he lies dying in a hospital room. These are not happy spirits: Ethel Rosenberg makes an appearance sneering and jeering at Cohn for convicting her of treason. She even charges that Roy did it because of her ethnicity, a claim Cohn rejects when he says he did it for the headlines. Some of these visits are slightly humorous, such as the revenant of Joseph Welch saying, "Have you no sense of mortality, sir, at long last? They need the room." Seeing Roy's mother show up and complain about her son dumping her ashes in the East River is worth a chuckle or two as well.James Woods does his usual bang up job as the abrasive Roy Cohn and Joe Don Baker bumbles and harrumphs his way through the role of Joe McCarthy. These are the two stand out actors in the film, as the other characters necessarily come and go quickly in an effort to fit as much of Cohn's life into the picture as possible. Even then much of Roy's life is missing. The later sections of the film skip as many as ten years in order spend more time with the McCarthy hearings. While I recognize a screenwriter is going to focus on the Red Scare more than anything else because of the Hollywood Ten and all that stuff, that is no excuse to engage in the type of rampant rumor seen here. J. Edgar Hoover, Francis Cardinal Spellman, and G. David Shine are the targets of the wildest speculations. I guess it is easier to make these brazen charges against people when they are dead than it is when they are alive. Still, despite the historical tightrope "Citizen Cohn" teeters on, watching James Woods in yet another frothing at the mouth performance always pays off in the end."
Intriguing, Fascinating And Effective.
Mr. Fellini | El Paso, Texas United States | 11/17/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Citizen Cohn" is like Anthony Sommer's "Official And Confidental: The Secret Life Of J.Edgar Hoover," it examines the true perverse and sinister nature of a respected public figure. James Woods gives a venomous, great performance like Bob Hoskins as Hoover in Oliver Stone's "Nixon." The film is really intriguing and fascinating. It serves as a study of politics in the McCarthy era through the 60s. Roy Cohn was obviously no saint and the film dwelves into his secret, perverse nature in a fascinating way. This movie is a mind-opener that raises many issues and uncovers the dark truth about not only Cohn, but about the era in which he lived. It seems he, like Hoover, was a personifacation of everything perverse in the system. Is it surprising he died of AIDS?"
From the Balcony | Lakewood Ranch, FL | 02/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"James Woods gives a brilliant and very realistic performance. The story is told of Cohn's rise to power, his ruthless treatment of 'communists', and his slow but eventual downfall, first when he meets his match in a clever army lawyer, then in a woman he should have taken a little more seriously, and then in illness and death. The portrayal of the gassing of Ms. Rosenberg is not something that I will forget easily. And often, when the obsessions of this Cohn character get to be so unnerving, that you wonder, how can this continue????, the scene jumps to his deathbed. Highly recommended."
A riveting movie
Amir Mulaganovic | South America | 10/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't know who they were giving oscars to in the year this movie came out but (as always) they fail to give them to the movie or the actors which deserve them and James Woods and the citisen Cohn sure deserved some oscar recognition for this masterpiece For history buffs such as myself this movie is one of those you can watch again and again 5 stars out of 5"
James Wood's acting right up there with Pacino and DeNiro!
Sandra Baird | Plainfield, N.J. | 06/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this movie and was stunned regarding the raw acting talents of Mr. Woods...Boy!...He took my breath away, It was as if he lived the part....he made you forget you were watching a movie,that you were just sneaking a peek into the real life of a dysfunctonal human being.Speaking of Cohn....How come no one could see through all of his shananigans?...His lifestyle, lies, deceits,and disrespect of the court system.These manipulations should have given his oppositions a clue as to what they were dealing with. Sandee"