Cohen and Tate (1988) 3.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 72.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 86 mins
Director: Eric Red
Stars: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross

Eric Red’s success as screenwriter of The Hitcher and Near Dark saw him get the chance to direct his next script, the gritty road-thriller Cohen and Tate. The film follows two contract killers played by the great Roy Scheider and a young Adam Baldwin who after brutally killing two government witnesses and their federal protection, head for Houston to deliver the kidnapped young boy of their victims to some people who wish to speak to him. Who those people are and what they want is largely irrelevant because Cohen and Tate is all about the car journey, the two abrasive personalities of the killers, their uneasy partnership, the police pursuit, and the mind games of the clever (perhaps overly so) little boy who they are forced to keep alive.

It’s a lot to contend with but Red’s unique thriller doesn’t get bogged down in it. In fact, it’s a very lean film that sits easily within the confines of that car thanks to the slick writing and interesting performances. Red’s screenplays always kept a certain degree of space between the audience and his characters and this film is the strongest example of that tendency. The two leads are chilling and intensely mean. Furthermore, given that the film opens and settles before we even see them, Red makes sure we see them as intruders throughout. In fact, their entrance shatters the uneasy quiet which the opening sets and if you’re watching the uncut version, it will leave you queasy. The characters are defined further with the type of affectations all the great 80’s villains had. Scheider’s Cohen with a hearing aid which goes unmentioned until a lot later and Baldwin’s Tate with a Terminator like garb. Red intrigues us further by writing one hell of a personality conflict into their relationship which gives the kidnapped boy lots of psychological rope to pull on. Red isn’t going for realism in this film as these guys are either too slick (in the case of Cohen), too insane (in the case of Tate), and too clever (in the case of the kid). But such sharp edges to the characters ensure plenty of sparks will fly when they’re thrown together and that’s exactly what you get in Cohen and Tate.

Given this was his debut behind the camera, Red is to be commended for demonstrating some substantial style. There are a couple of unpolished scenes, particularly the opening, as he struggles to get the actors working from the same page. But when in and around the car, he’s buzzing. One scene in particular involves the two killers using the police to walk them through their own roadblock and it’s a minor triumph of staging, editing, and overall composition. The result is a scintillating moment of tension which most directors would be envious of.

The last word here should go to the two leads. Baldwin is a touch cliched in his depiction of the sadistic Tate but it’s undeniably an intimidating and entertaining turn. On the other hand, Scheider is electric as the clever, methodical, and mostly heartless Cohen. Yes, his character is written with real verve but it’s the great man’s unique presence that steers it in such a focused manner. Cohen and Tate has seemingly been forgotten as the decades have gone by but a recent Blu-ray release and a resurgence of interest in the gritty 80’s thrillers of Mann and Friedkin might hopefully dictate that it finally gets the attention it deserves.

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One thought on “Cohen and Tate (1988)”

  1. Great review! I have to pick this movie up. I own many of Scheider’s films but I have yet to re-visit this one since i saw it last on VHS. I think I will get the new blu ray from Shout Factory. Good job, D!

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