Shout! Factory // 1989 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 26th, 2013
They were hired killers going up against the deadliest force of all. Each other.
It's a joke around Hollywood that everyone -- from the janitor to you waitress to the guy who does your taxes -- has a script they'd like to see made. Another joke says that as soon as someone has a script produced what they really want to do is direct. Though I'm sure it's not true for everyone, lots and lots of people want to add that hyphenate "-director" to their resume, whether it's writer-director, actor-director, or what have you. It must be especially pressing to get to the director's chair if you've written a few screenplays that turned into movies that weren't so successful. Such was the case for Eric Red. He wrote the screenplays to The Hitcher and Near Dark, but in the years after their immediate release, neither film earned the appreciation they deserved (and have largely earned in the intervening decades). The year following Near Dark saw him have the chance to turn one of his scripts into a film as the director. The result, Cohen and Tate, is an interesting bit of eighties filmmaking. Though it's a niche product, fans will appreciate the care that went into the Cohen and Tate (Blu-ray) release.
Young Travis (Harley Cross, The Believers) witnessed the murder of a gangster in Texas. He and his parents have been placed in Witness Protection, but the mobster's colleagues have hired a pair of hitmen to take care of Travis' parents before kidnapping Travis to find out exactly what he knows about the killer. Cool customer Cohen (Roy Scheider, Jaws) and hot head Tate (Adam Baldwin, Firefly) are dispatched to kill the parents and kidnap Travis. They get it half right: though they have Travis in tow, his father survived the attack and can identify the hit men. Capitalizing on the pressure the two are under, Travis begins to undermine the frayed relationship between Cohen and Tate as they attempt to elude authorities.
It's not hard to see why Cohen and Tate didn't get much acclaim back in 1988. Not that it's a bad film, but in an era of increasingly stratified genre offerings at the box office, the film offers neither one of the era's action stars (no Willis, Schwarzenegger, or Stallone), nor does it fit neatly into any one genre where it might be marketed. Instead, it offers a bit of character-driven drama, a bit of noir, a bit of road-movie shenanigans, and some pretty decent violence all wrapped up into one 86-minute package. I'm sure it's not helped by the numerous cuts demanded by the MPAA (documented in the 20 minutes of deleted scenes included here).
With that said, Cohen and Tate doesn't really deserve its anonymity. The film is anchored by a pair of strong performances from Scheider and Baldwin. Naturally, Scheider plays the cool customer, the more experienced hitman with his usual stoicism. The younger Baldwin (in contrast to his most famous turn as Jayne in Firefly) is all bravado and impulse. Their interplay within the road movie narrative is what makes the film. It also helps that Red has definite influences for his film. Instead of taking a wholly generic approach (or a wholly original one), Red turns back to the Western for his visual touchstones. Cohen and Tate are hardly cowboys, but the violence of the film is certainly reminiscent of Peckinpah. Squibs hit like miniature red water balloons and many characters meet a violent end.
Previously, Cohen and Tate was only available via an MOD DVD from MGM, but Shout! Factory have gone back to the print to source a new hi-def transfer that results in a pleasing 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded image. Grain is well-handled on this transfer, resulting in pleasing detail, especially during night scenes. Colors are nicely saturated, with bold reds standing out during the shootouts. Black levels are consistent and deep. The DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track does a great job of presenting the original audio, with surprising clarity and good balance.
Extras start with a commentary from Red who provides lots of background info and production stories throughout the running time. It's especially interesting to hear about his influences. He returns for a short featurette where he shares some of the same stories, along with interviews featuring other cast members (though sadly not Adam Baldwin) and the cinematographer, who all share stories of the production. Twenty minutes of deleted scenes are also included which add some character bits and violence. Finally, the film's trailer is included. It's a surprisingly hefty package for a film that's largely been forgotten.
Cohen and Tate isn't quite a lost gem from the late 1980s, but it might qualify as a semi-precious stone. With an interesting combination of western, noir, and road-movie tropes fronted by a collection of good actors, Cohen and Tate offers an interesting twist on the action formula. With this surprisingly-packed Cohen and Tate (Blu-ray) edition, the film is worth a rental, especially for fans of Scheider or Baldwin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes