Citizen Cohn

(Frank Pierson, USA, 1992)


For a while in the ’90s, America’s Home Box Office seemed to specialise in biopics of extremely awful men who have strutted upon the stage of world history.

After the prolonged nastiness of Stalin (1992), HBO presented an outraged portrait of Joe McCarthy’s unlovely right-hand man Roy Cohn in Citizen Cohn.

This telemovie takes a synoptic ride through some key events of recent American political history, as recalled in nightmarish flashes by the anti-hero on his death bed: from the execution of the Rosenbergs through the Communist witch hunt to high level criminal corruption in government.

As played by a manic, spluttering James Woods, Cohn is a foul-mouthed, right wing monster ready to duke it out with any pasty-faced liberal who crosses his path.

Following the strict rules which govern such simple minded, teacherly biopics, Cohn is also presented as perverse, sadistic, fascistic, twisted, repressed and cruel to those closest to him.

If only all the lessons of history were this simple!

© Adrian Martin July 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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