Picks and Pans Review: Citizen Cohn
HBO (Sat., Aug. 22, 8 P.M. ET)
James Woods stars as the notorious real-life lawyer Roy Cohn, who helped fuel the anti-Communist hysteria of the '50s as a prosecutor of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for treason and as the chief aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Cohn continued to be a controversial figure. He was disbarred in 1986, the same year he died from AIDS.
There must be an interesting story here, considering the cast of characters (Joe Don Baker plays McCarthy, Joseph Bologna plays Walter Winchell, Frederic Forrest is Dashiell Hammett, and Pat Hingle is J. Edgar Hoover). But this muddled movie never tells it. In the end, all we really know about Cohn is that he compulsively grabbed food off the plates of his wealthy dinner companions.
This is the type of role that sends Woods into a histrionic frenzy (he's particularly rabid in the courtroom scenes). But it's certainly not Woods's overacting that ruins this film, as it did his last TV biopic about Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. This movie sinks because of David Franzoni's jumbled, superficial script and because of its repulsive subject. Citizen Kane was a tragedy; Citizen Cohn is just a calamity.
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